Buffy really would have preferred to have been doing this without an audience. It was bad enough that she was allowing Willow to do it at all. She should have just refused, but Will had asked her in the busy moment after breakfast when most of the camp residents were getting ready to leave and Buffy's tired brain had forgotten to be strong.
So here they were in the kitchen with Willow's pots of powders and potions on hand, ready to be sprinkled across a slightly worn and torn map of the United States that was spread over the table. This map had gotten them from LA to Cleveland a few months before and now it was going to prove it was capable of more than one miracle by finding Faith.
"Okay I'm ready," Willow announced. "Guys, could you keep it down a little while I chant?"
Buffy looked over at their audience, sitting on high stools at the breakfast counter. "Better yet, why don't you two go outside? Aren't you supposed to be with Giles anyway?" She asked of the new boy sitting with Andrew.
"Er, yeah, thing is see, they've gone out somewhere and I was in the loo when they left."
Buffy looked at Willow and raised an eyebrow.
"It's a bathroom. A loo's a bathroom, right?" Willow checked with the watcher wannabe.
He nodded. "Yeah, so I missed the bus."
"And he's interested in magic so I thought it would be good for him to sit in and watch, you know, as he missed out on the actual Watcher training," Andrew explained to Willow.
"Okay, so why's Andrew here?" Buffy looked over at him. "I don't want him learning how to manipulate the mojo any more than he already can."
The new kid turned excitedly to Andrew. "You can do magic?"
Andrew blushed. "Just a little, mostly summonsing and dark rituals...which I don't do any more." He shot a quick glance at Buffy who let him off with a mild glare.
"It's just a locating spell, Buff, not end of the world stuff."
"Okay, whatever, just both of you be quiet and let Will do her thing so we can get this over with."
Buffy was tired; she hadn't had any sleep the night before. When she'd finally left the training barn, she'd gone up to her room to pace around her bed until daybreak.
As soon as they had found Faith she was planning on crashing for a few hours before she had to think about getting on a plane and confronting the selfish, stubborn pain in her ass.
Andrew and his new buddy piped down and Will got her mojo on while Buffy waited irritably for the results.
The foreign chant reached a peak and Willow threw some powder in the air and there was a flash of light over the map.
"Did it work?" Buffy leaned forward at once to look at the map.
Willow peered over it too and Andrew and the new kid hopped off their stools and came closer to the table.
A pin-prick of blue light hovered over the State of Nevada.
Buffy leaned closer. "Where is that?"
"I can't really narrow it down from Nevada," Willow admitted. "Except to say its a few miles north of Las Vegas by the looks of it."
Another blue light appeared and hovered over Montana. All eyes focused on it.
"Er, I don't know what you're trying to locate exactly, but can it fly and if so, can it fly that fast?" The new kid asked, his eyes still on the map.
"No." Buffy bit her lip, also staring at the map. "Will?"
"Uh, I don't know Buffy. Maybe Angel found her and put her on a plane like he said."
"It would have to be a really fast plane." Andrew moved his finger back and forth across the map. "And that doesn't explain why there are two dots now; surely she'd just be a single moving dot?"
"Wait three dots," the new kid said.
Buffy looked up at him for a second. "Do you have name?"
He looked up at her with a grin. "Yeah, and there's four dots now."
Buffy looked back at the map. There was now a pin-prick of light hovering over Florida and another in Cleveland. Cleveland? Was there a chance...?
"Buffy, I don't think we're picking up Faith so much as just a part of her," Willow said. "The good news is that we stumbled on an easier way to locate the new slayers. We won't have to rely so heavily on the coven's seers now."
As they looked on another tiny blue light joined the first over Cleveland and then another and another until it was quite a bright blue light.
Buffy sighed. "Which one do you think is me?" She indicated the bobbing blue lights over Cleveland.
Willow shrugged. "I don't know. If you'd like I can teleport you somewhere else and we can find out?"
"No thanks, teleporting makes me feel sick and anyway I know where I am. The important question is which one is her, right?"
"It's impossible to tell," Willow admitted. "The spell is too general."
"But not if we use it in combination with all the other intel we have coming in," Andrew said excitedly.
"We have intel coming in?" Buffy asked, managing the makings of a smile. "Did we tap 007's cell-phone?"
"Angelus phoned Mr. Giles this morning…"
"Angel," Buffy corrected.
"Sorry, anyway he phoned this morning to let us know that he's put together a surveillance team to uncover Faith's whereabouts. They'll leave no stone unturned in their quest to..."
"Okay, I get it; he's got his evil law firm on the case," Buffy cut him off.
"Exactly, so if we put the information Angel gives us with the locations on the map..." Andrew beamed.
"Fine," Buffy nodded. "That's your job then, Andrew. Let me know if it actually works."
Giles was approaching the end of his tether now; he'd forgotten just how trying teenagers could be. As they walked through a central Cleveland cemetery in the morning sunshine, he was remembering it fast.
Reece Highbury, son of a late high-ranking council member, was too busy flexing his muscles and flirting with Rona, Vi and Alison to pay any attention to him.
Even Naomi and Anthony were deep in a conversation about mausoleum architecture, and those were the two he thought he could count on.
And as for...
"Will you boys stop that this instance!" Giles shouted over to Rajiv and Peter who were trying to pile drive each other into headstones. "Show some bloody respect."
Rajiv at least listened, wriggling away from the insufferable Jones boy and giving Giles a grin. "Sorry sir. Just high spirits; first day of the holiday and all that."
"Yes, well you must understand that this is a serious business." Giles, slightly mollified, gestured for them all to follow him again. "This is not a vacation. You are here to take up your sacred duty as Watchers. No one should consider this opportunity you have been given anything less than an honor and a privilege, and I expect you to treat it as such."
He looked down as he kicked some dirt off of his shoe. Looking back up, he fixed Reece Highbury with a fierce glare. "Am I making myself clear?"
From behind him came a rather loud shout of annoyance causing the Watcher to spin around at once.
Peter had young Anthony's glasses held high above the boy's head, taunting him as he jumped up to try and claim them back.
Giles was about to stalk back and reprimand Peter himself, but his mobile rang before he could. Turning instead to Naomi, he beseeched her with his eyes as he answered the phone.
"No I haven't heard anything from that area, but I suppose it's as good a place to start as any. US-95, you said, where would she be heading on that road?"
"Yes, assuming she's heading for somewhere and isn't simply trying to get lost in the desert." Giles smiled slightly as Naomi took the glasses back by force when Peter wouldn't give them up readily.
"She didn't seem too upset this morning, although last night was a different story. I think Buffy is more intent on finding her in order to give her a good telling off than for any hopes of a romantic reunion..."
"Well Angel, maybe she should have thought of that before running away!"
"I'm afraid I really don't have time to go over this again. Call me back when you find out anything else. Thank you."
Giles closed his phone and slipped it back in his pocket.
Well they had a lead then, a thin one possibly, but as he'd said to Angel, anything would do as a starting point.
The car she'd 'borrowed' had blown a tire miles from anywhere and so Faith was hoofing it along another dusty old road with her back-pack over one shoulder and absolutely no idea which direction she was heading in. She wasn't even sure if she was on a real road anymore.
Although annoyed at first, she figured it probably wasn't a bad idea to not hang onto the car too long, after all someone had to have picked that dude up by now, making the car too recognizable for someone on the run.
On the run?
She was out, all legit or whatever. The only people she was running from were her friends. Friends? Damn even that sounded weird to her.
Did Buffy know yet?
She must do by now. It had been over twenty-four hours since Faith had skipped out on the Watchers. Giles couldn't have kept it from her for that long. What was Buffy thinking? Was she mad, upset or indifferent?
Faith scuffed her feet in the dust as she trailed along. She must have been in the quietest part of America that there was. She had seen no cars and no people since she'd barreled into some roadside desert scrub at sixty miles an hour about two hours ago. In fact she was starting to think she wasn't even on Earth any more. Wasn't the planet supposed to be overpopulated?
Back when she'd lived with her Mom in Boston, there'd been a family living in the apartment below them with seven kids. Seven! All ages; from the diaper shittin' stage to gawky, sweaty-palmed teens. Nine people living in a three-room apartment with a bathroom the size of most wardrobes. Why the hell hadn't they come and lived out here?
She was pretty sure she was in Utah, though, judging from the signs she'd seen earlier in the day and she was even surer that if she didn't get her hands on something cool and refreshing in the next thirty minutes, she was going to collapse on the road and die like a dog.
At least the sun had dropped below the horizon now; the darkness was a damn sight cooler than the baking sun had been. And it wasn't like she needed to see to walk across a whole lot of nothing.
"Ow what the ...?" Faith cursed as she walked straight into a fence.
Stepping back she gave it a once over. Simple wooden fence, nothing special about the construct except the fact that it was out here in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully that meant so were people.
With no deliberation she jumped over it and set off again.
Five minutes later she heard it. A high-pitched noise coming from somewhere in the darkness in front of her.
Faith stopped and wondered what kind of demon she'd run into and whether it could be killed with bare hands or a stake because that was all she had.
It came again, louder this time and followed by two or three more, which meant either this thing had three heads or there were three of them. There it was again, behind her. Just what had she walked into?
Something big charged past her and Faith instinctively dove to the side as hooves thumped by.
Hooves. What demons did she know that had hooves?
She scrambled back up as another shape tore past a foot to her left and she spun to get a better look but was too slow.
Didn't the devil have hooves, or was that trotters?
Raised human voices floated her way out of the darkness.
"Over there! No Arnold you useless...Go the other way!"
"Dad! It doesn't matter which way we go, there's nothing here."
It was two men shouting at each other. Great, there were people out here too. Like she was in the mood to do rescuing.
"Of course there's something here. Why else would the horses be all of a dither?"
Horses? Faith started laughing as she realized what had scared the crap out of her moments ago. Demons on the brain, of course it was horses. She'd passed a few ranches already that day, mostly riding schools and summer camps. She'd obviously stumbled on another.
"Well there was nothing here last night or the night before, what makes you think tonight is going to be any different?"
"Son, just be quiet and keep looking."
The two men were getting closer and Faith could see the beam of a flashlight playing over the ground. She was about to step up and introduce herself and ask for a glass of water when another horse made an annoyed harrumphing noise right behind her making her jump and spin around.
"Jesus!" She muttered as her heart slowed to normal pace and then she muttered it again when the flashlight beam came up to shine in her face.
"What the hell are you doing on my land?"
"Um, shortcut," Faith told the guy honestly.
The light went up and down her body once. "Shortcut to what, there's nothing out here for miles."
Faith could make out nothing of the man addressing her, except he sounded pretty pissed off. "I'm, uh, heading for town."
The beam shone in her eyes but she didn't look away.
"That's thirty miles away, you expect me to believe a young lass like you is walking around the desert in the dead of night and you ain't up to know good?"
Faith stayed silent, letting the jerk think what he wanted, until she heard the snick-click of a gun being cocked. "Hey, it's the truth. Why the hell else would I be out here?"
The other man, who might have been the gun-toter's son, spoke up. "Maybe she is telling the truth, dad. She sure doesn't look like a horse thief."
"And you don't look as dumb as you are Arnie. Just because she's pretty doesn't mean she's all sweet and innocent."
'Ain't that the truth,' thought Faith.
Arnie laughed, obviously not offended by the way his pop talked to him. "So what Dad, are you going to shoot her on the spot?"
Faith started backing up. She had no plans on getting shot tonight or any other night, and certainly not when she hadn't done anything.
"Hey, stay where you are." She stopped inching back. "Put your hands on your head."
"For Christ's sake, I only wanted a glass of water," she moaned, but did as he instructed.
"Yeah right. Where's the rest of your people?" The old guy shone the flashlight behind her and around. "I know you're not here alone."
"Actually I am."
"An entrepreneur, huh?" That was the younger one, Arnie, and he sounded impressed. Faith rolled her eyes.
"Well, let's get you back to the house." The old man waved her past him. "You can have your glass of water while I call the police."
"But I didn't..."
"Save it! I'm sick of people thinking they can wander onto my land and upset my horses. Once I could consider a mistake, but every night? No, the game's up missy, so just come along quietly..."
They were moving across the field now and the old man with the flashlight was behind her and Arnie was to her left. The son was one hell of a muffin and they were checking each other out in the beam and liking what they saw, when something, not quite a sound and not quite a movement caught Faith's attention.
Her head snapped up to look into the night and what she saw made her take a step back, despite the rifle back there.
Eight horses were galloping towards them. All of them were milky-grey in color and weren't all that big, but they looked pretty solid and they were coming straight at them.
"What's got into them now?" The old guy sounded confused, like he'd cut the red wire but the bomb was still ticking.
"Dad, they ain't ours." Arnie was back stepping hurriedly and he was waving for Faith to do the same.
"Don't be daft of course they're o..."
Arnie wasn't listening. "Get out of the way!" He yelled diving to one side as the lead horse drew too close to stop in time.
Faith blinked as hooves thundered on the hard packed earth and she took a step back as cold breath snorted into her face. She staggered back another step when her body was hit with a bucket of coldness and suddenly she was staring at the horse's tail, but it hadn't turned around!
Another three of the eight horses passed through her before they were gone.
Taking a few deep breaths, she steadied herself before turning around. Arnie was sprawled where his jump had landed him staring at her in awe. The old man was on his knees staring back towards the boundary fence, where, if you squinted in just the right way, you could make out a group of ghostly pale shapes.
"So," Faith flipped her hair out of her face and put her hands on her hips, "I think I know why your horses are always so jumpy."
A match flared with a cold blue flame and flickered in the absolute darkness of the woodshed.
After a little clinking and clanking it was touched to a wick inside an old fashioned gas lamp, the wick caught and the light grew brighter inside the dusty glass of the lamp.
"On threee laads!" Came Mawther's great voice.
Several pixies could be heard chanting:
Onen, deu, try aan drehevel!
The gas lamp slowly floated into the darkness as the pixies hoisted it to the low ceiling, where it dangled and caused flickering monstrous shadows to dance and play across the walls.
As soon as the swinging settled down the pixies came together in the centre of the floor.
"Mawther, what iss tow bee done? The biggars gow baak on thar ger."
"I knaw Timsaw, I knaw." Beryan, Mawther of the clan, agreed.
"Wee caan't let they'm taak baak oor laaan!" Insisted another.
"Wee wan't, Daveth, nawt agin." She assured. Her own accent was thicker than usual due to her uneasy mood, but she hoped her brethren wouldn't pick up on it.
"Wee neead to ryse aginst they'm, Mawther," said a third.
At this all the pixies present seemed to break into angry arguments amongst themselves, the small, clear voices rising higher and higher as they all sought to be heard.
It took the Mawther three attempts to quiet them down and in the end only a flash of raw magic shooting from her fingertips into the centre of the crowd hushed them enough for her voice to be heard.
"Wee will nawt aact beefoor wee aave moore proof, yow muste aall staay awn yaw gaard, but doo nawt aact! Leeve uss naw, the wyse consel muss conveene."
Many of the pixies nodded respectfully to Mawther before filing out of the shed from various hidden exits. Soon only three remained: Mawther and her two most trusted lieutenants.
"Let uss sitm" said the seven inch high leader.
All three sat cross-legged on the woodshed floor in a circle.
"Whaat would yow aave uss do?" Mawther asked.
"Daveth waas right. Wee caan nawt let the biggars taak oor laand agin, Beryan!"
"I aave naw intentions of giiving uup oor ground, Yestin..."
She was cut off by the other elder speaking:
"Beryan, if yow will excuse my interruption, wee shoould nawt aact until wee knaw aal tha faacts. Wee do nawt naw thaat the interlopers meen uss enie haarm."
The Mawther nodded her head. "Yaw aare very wyse, dai Caden. Haw doo yaw thiink wee shoould find owt?"
"Observation, Beryan," he said with a nod of his own head.
"But wee caan nawt bee cawt un-preepared, Beryan. Experience haas tawt uss thaat wen a biggar decides tow turn, thay turn faast!" Yestin reminded her.
The leader of the Crow-an-wragh clan bowed her head and placed her palms together before her tiny purple nose.
At length she looked back at her friends. "Yestin, preepare the clan for a biggar incursion, but keeep they'r angers burning low. I waant they'm redy, but nawt dundle-heads. Caden, git Ogrek to assemble scowtin teams, wee mus knaw whaat iss goen on." She touched a purple fingertip to the forehead of both of her comrades. "Begin now, and let tha golok of Erysiaana be with you."
Both Yestin and Cadin kept their heads bowed for several long seconds while the spirit of the Goddess Erysiaana was invoked, and then as one they turned and left the woodshed leaving the leader alone.
She gazed upwards to watch a fat moth fluttering around the gas lamp high above her head, while she sought her own cause of action. Despite differing opinions, her lieutenants were right; something must be done to curtail any hope of history repeating itself.
Beryan remembered well the war that had broken out when the Watchers first decided they no longer needed the help and guidance of their long time Piskie allies. Her Grandmother had been Mawther then, and a strong and wise leader if ever there was one, but she'd let the sacred oaths sworn centuries before dictate her reactions to the sudden hostility and her loyalty and civility had been the clans downfall.
Beryan had always lived by the sacred oaths herself, it was the way she had been taught to hold her head up high and prove she was better than any Biggar, but...
The seven inch purple beauty held her arm high in the air and clicked her fingers. The lamps flame extinguished itself with a hiss.
...but Beryan wasn't sure she would follow in her Grandmother's footsteps should all out war break once again. In the last year or so that the camp had been at first abandoned and then occupied by the Slayers, life had been good again for the Crows-au-wragh clan. She wasn't prepared to give up on that without a fight.
She slowly left the woodshed for her own quarters under the main house, still pondering the issue.
"I aave tow speaak tow jus' Buffee," she decided at length.
Faith crawled out of the ripped green sleeping bag and stretched.
The kitchen floor was not exactly comfortable, but at least last night she hadn't had to worry about being eaten by coyotes or spending half her money on a room.
She was still blinking the sleep from her eyes, looking around the spacey kitchen and idly wondering if there was anything valuable in here that the Jackson's wouldn't miss too soon, when Mrs. Jackson entered the kitchen.
"Hello dear, did you sleep okay?" She was a small woman with grey hair high in a bun which made her look older than she must have been. She bustled around Faith now as she set about making breakfast. "I'd have offered you a bed, but with Arnie's business venture falling through he's had to move back home for a while."
"That's okay, Mrs. J, I was fine." Faith pulled out her most heart-winning smile, hoping to get breakfast out of her. "It was real nice of you to let me stay the night."
"Well, after you helped us out so kindly with our little spook problem, it was the least we could do."
"No sweat. Rounding up the ghost horses was kinda fun actually. I never had a chance to ride a horse before." She delightedly accepted a hot cup of coffee from the tiny woman.
"Well you wouldn't have known it to look at you," Mrs. Jackson assured her as she prepared bacon omelettes. "You must be a natural. Not that there is much else natural about ghost horses." She gave a light chuckle. "Fancy that. We were starting to regret buying this place when the horses were acting so nervy all the time. Who would have guessed it was because they were sharing their corral with a herd of ghosts?" She motioned for Faith to take a seat at the table
Faith took the seat and shrugged. "I kinda got a sixth sense for these things."
That hadn't stopped it freaking her out when a huge damn hoss had galloped right through her; leaving her goosepimply.
"Well it's lucky for us that Mr. Jackson caught you taking a short cut through the corral."
That had actually been the least favorite part of the night for Faith. Walking for six hours in the middle of nowhere because the car had burst a tire and then being mistaken for a horse thief and marched to the house at gunpoint so that the owner could phone the police had not been fun.
Mrs. Jackson put a full plate in front of her and she let the incident go with a smile and tucked in.
"We know now why the asking price on this place was so low." Mrs. Jackson chuckled, preparing more plates of food for the rest of her family. "I can't believe the real estate man didn't tell us we had ghosts."
Faith just nodded and chewed, although she thought that maybe the name of this dry, dusty place might have been a clue. Why the hell else would you call a place Dead Horse Point?
"Well, Mom, then you wouldn't have brought it, would you?" A tall blonde, really good looking guy came into the sunlit kitchen and took the plate Mrs. Jackson was holding out and sat opposite Faith. "Morning Faith, was the floor okay for you?" When his Mom went to the other side of the kitchen for more milk he lowered his voice. "Y'know, my bed would have been big enough for the both of us." He winked and forked eggs into his mouth.
Faith grinned back and shook her head. "I told ya, Arnie, you're not my type, at least, not at the moment," she winked back.
"Well you can take my number when you leave and get back to me when the moment changes," he replied easily.
"Nah, it wouldn't be fair to all the other women in Utah to leave you waiting for me." She finished her breakfast and sat back, her tummy satisfied. That would have to be enough for now.
"Why? I wasn't planning on waiting alone," he smirked.
She laughed. "Touché dude."
Mrs. Jackson came back over and Mr. Jackson came into the kitchen for his breakfast and Arnie changed the subject.
"So you're really planning on riding one of them ghost horses all the way to Green River?"
Faith nodded. "Yeah, why not? It'll be fun."
The previous night after she had gotten all the equine ghosts in a loose herd she'd driven them out of the corral and off the property with Mr. Jackson's help. It was only on returning that Faith sensed another big, snorting, see-through beast scaring the crap out of the flesh and blood ones. She'd decided to keep it and use it for the next leg of her journey.
"How do you know it won't just leave and go after its buddies?" Arnie asked.
"The corral gate is locked up tight, son." Mr. Jackson pointed out.
"It's a ghost, dad; it could run through the gate."
Mr. Jackson was having a hard time believing there were ghosts of any kind anywhere, but he could not dismiss what his own eyes had strained to witness. With a muttered, "I guess," he went back to eating.
Mrs. Jackson looked around from the stove. "Well if the horse can go through solid wood, aren't you a little worried that you might go through the horse? How are you going to sit on it?"
"It can stay corporeal when it feels like it, least it did last night when I had a little practice run." Faith looked around, figuring it was probably time to saddle up already. Where had she put her bag?
Getting up from the table, she found it against the wall. "Well thanks for letting me stay the night, but it's time me and Silver hit the trail."
Mr. Jackson looked up. "Are you sure you don't want a ride? Arnie could give you a lift as far as the city. Green River is over thirty miles away. That's a long hack for someone new to riding."
Faith looked Arnie up and down and pondered the offer. Arnie looked back at her with a smirk. Nah, it was better to walk away from the temptation. Riding a ghost horse was gonna do her a lot more good than riding the hunky stable boy in his car.
"Thanks, but I'm looking forward to it," she finally replied.
"Well thanks for what you did, and sorry about the misunderstanding last night," Mr. Jackson went on.
"No worries, thanks for the feed." Faith left the kitchen and made her way through the house to the door. Mrs. Jackson and Arnie followed her out into the hot day.
Going to the edge of the corral, Faith squinted and concentrated until she made out the indistinct, milky form of the ghost horse. Jumping the fence she made her way to it and stopped. Now what? After a minute of thinking about it and knowing her hosts were watching to see what she would do, she waved her arms up and down and said "shoo!" in a loud voice.
The translucent horse looked over his flank at her and snorted.
She repeated her movements and it slowly began to walk away.
Finally she got it out of the corral and wondered about putting a saddle on it, but she didn't want to ask the Jackson's for one. They were probably pretty expensive, being made of leather and all. Bareback wouldn't be too bad anyway.
"Okay Silver," she muttered, "you ready for this?"
She patted his side to make sure he was nice and solid and then jumped up. She got a leg over his back just as Arnie came back from fetching her some reins, so he was just in time to almost die laughing when the horse faded out and Faith hit the dust at his feet.
The sun was streaming into the barn and landing fully on Craig's face as he opened his eyes. A Pixie watched from the windowsill as he blinked once or twice before lifting his arm to look at his watch.
Getting out of bed, he dressed quickly and left the dormitory without looking at any of the other boys.
Peter rolled over to face Reece's bed. "That's every morning he's done this disappearing act," he noted.
"Good. I don't want to look at his ugly mug over breakfast anyway," Reece sniffed. "And the more he slacks off, the less chance there is of him getting a place."
Their voices awoke Rajiv, who sat up scratching his head and looking for his cigarettes. "Dunno why he got picked anyway. His family en't exactly all that, are they; his dad's in bleedin' prison."
"It's not a prison, it's a nuthouse," Peter corrected.
"High security mental wing of a prison," Reece re-corrected impatiently, getting out of bed. "The little twerp's here because Ramstock's a soft git with more money than sense." He began getting dressed.
"Yeah, but you wouldn't say that in front of him would you?" Rajiv challenged with a grin.
Reece smiled. "No, which proves that I have just as much sense as I have money. Come on, let's get breakfast. Old man Rupes will be impressed if we're up at the crack of dawn." The tall blonde looked back through the door to Peter who was still pulling on clothes. "Wake Miley will you?"
Peter slipped into his trainers and walked to the edge of the end bed. Grabbing the mattress he lifted it sharply and smiled with satisfaction at the loud thump and muffled 'ouch' he caused.
After the voices had faded, Anthony Milestone rolled over in his bundle of blankets and fumbled blindly for his glasses. They were under his ear. "I should just sleep on the floor," he grumbled to himself.
The Pixie frowned at the grumbling Biggar, jumped to the ground and disappeared.
"Look what I found." Buffy put the newspaper down on the kitchen table, opened at a page about half-way through.
Giles pulled the paper towards him and began to read the article.
"Guys, can you at least wait for me to clear up breakfast before you start a meeting?" Andrew whined from behind Xander's chair. "You know you only get annoyed when I have to wipe around you."
"Andrew, do be quiet." Giles passed the paper to Willow and looked to Buffy. "Are you sure it's her?"
Xander and Kennedy both looked over Willow's shoulder to see the headline:
"Huh?" Xander took his seat back on the other side of the table. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Willow began to read the smaller print:
Hans Sheederstene was picked up early this morning by the Nevada Highway Patrol and is now in police custody. Sheederstene, wanted for five separate charges of rape and at least seven attempted rapes in California, Nevada and Oregon was found limping, pant-less, down the side of Highway 50.
Highway patrol called for support knowing that Sheederstene has evaded capture on three previous occasions, but it was unnecessary as the man willingly gave himself up.
One eye-witness source reports that the serial sex offender was babbling incoherently about a 'freaky-superbitch' taking his pants and stealing his car. Police believe this was probably down to dehydration and a night spent in the elements.
Our source said of the babble, "Aye, the desert can grab you at night and draw you in. Make you believe in all sorts of things that can't be true. Dunno what happened to his pants though, maybe the lab-Aliens forgot to give them back."
Mr. Sheederstone is under police guard at All Our Angels in Reno and once he is fully recovered will be brought to L.A. to stand trial.
Willow put the newspaper on the table.
Xander scratched his chin. "What are labaliens?"
"There's a dash. Lab dash aliens." Willow pointed at it...
Xander chuckled. "Oh."
"Can we be sure it's her?" Kennedy asked. She was gently stroking along the edge of Willow's ear and seemed fascinated with it. It was making Willow giggle. She shook her head playfully to dislodge her fingers but Kennedy was insistent.
"It's her. How many other freaky super bitches are there out there?" Buffy said and she almost smiled.
Kennedy took her attention from Willow's ear long enough to smirk at her. "Well since May - who the hell knows?"
Buffy groaned. "You have a point, but I still think it's her."
Willow stood from the table. "Well I'll get the ingredients we need for another one, see if we can find her anywhere near Reno, but don't be surprised if I just get another scared little girl wondering how she managed to break the handles off her bicycle. Without anything personal of Faith's it makes it all very hit and miss."
Buffy sighed, already knowing that. The only thing she'd ever had of Faith's had been the knife she'd stabbed her with and that had gone down with the rest of Sunnydale.
"So obviously magic isn't working. Think it might be time to try a different tack?" Kennedy asked as she fastened paper demons onto the upright wooden slats Xander had forced into the training field earth.
Willow's latest spell had offered the same results as the previous ones, which meant lots, but they still didn't know which one might be Faith. Even Angel's information didn't narrow it down a whole lot; this morning three dots had appeared in Nevada alone and there was no saying that Faith was staying put anyway.
"What do you suggest?" Buffy didn't look over as she completed the same task a little further up the field.
"I don't know," Kennedy admitted. "Maybe we can put something on the web, offer a reward for information."
Xander stopped pounding wooden slats into the ground with his sledgehammer and picked his shirt up from the ground to wipe the sweat from his face. "Yeah and the next thing you know we have a bunch of bounty hunters suing us for medical expenses."
Buffy walked over to him and stuck a life-sized paper vampire on the slat. "Well I suppose we could follow the trail of broken bones until we found her, but I have a feeling the police might wanna get involved in that particular scavenger hunt too."
Xander stepped back to get a good look at the picture. "Who drew these?"
Kennedy hung up her last cut-out further down the field and came to join them. "Dawn had the watcher-wannabe's doing them last night; apparently it was a test in demon anatomy."
All three looked around them at the scattered drawings fluttering in the light breeze.
"I'm assuming they all failed," Buffy chuckled.
"Well we are talking demons Buff; maybe they all passed." Xander motioned to a few of the bad demon depictions. "I mean that one looks like a..." he frowned as he tried to remember the name of, well, any demon at all.
"They've all got heads and bodies, sort of," said Kennedy, shrugging. "That's all they need to be target practice."
"Are we really sure it's a good idea to give those kids projectile weapons?" Xander turned his head to look at one woman and then the other. "Bearing in mind none of them has built-in Slayer accuracy or, you know, any common sense that we've noticed."
"Hell no," said Kennedy quickly.
"Definitely not," Buffy agreed.
Xander nodded. "So anyone feel like going into town and leaving Giles to fend for himself?"
"Great plan." Buffy set off back to the house.
"Let's get Willow on the way." Kennedy fell into step beside the Scooby duo.
Craig hadn't been able to get out of that afternoon's training exercise with Mr. Giles, as much as he'd racked his brains to come up with something. He was doing his best to keep out of the old Watcher's line of sight and he was being unwittingly helped by Peter's antics.
The idiot though it was funny to chase Anthony about with a crossbow pointed at his arse. Anthony thought it was less funny and Mr. Giles was busy yelling at the pair of them.
Standing on the far side of the training field with Naomi between him and the commotion, he felt safe enough to just aim at his target, whatever the hell it was supposed to be, in peace.
He pulled the string of his cumbersome bow back, held it taut while he sighted on the presumed face of the ogre tacked to the wooden pole, and let fly.
Craig's sharp eyes widened as he saw the arrow point pierce the paper between the cut-out's eyes.
"Yes!" He leapt into the air, pumping his bow above him as he let out a jubilant whoop.
Seeing the old boy suddenly turn in his direction to see what this latest fuss was about, Craig dropped to one knee and busied himself with his already neatly tied shoe-lace.
Naomi, having missed her mark by a good three inches, jumped up and down excitedly, waving her arms and whooping in feigned delight.
"Naomi, I assume that you are aware the goal is to actually hit the target?" Mr. Giles asked with a tiny smile.
Naomi calmed down and smiled pleasantly as the other assembled trainee's laughed at her. "Sorry, sir," said the normally demure English girl. "I must have become caught up in the moment. Shall I try again?"
"Yes, please do." Giles chuckled and turned back to cuff Peter on the back of the head.
Craig stood up again, looking sheepish when Naomi turned to glare at him.
"Sorry," he whispered with a grin.
"You owe me." She muttered back, smiling.
This was the way to travel! The heat was enough to bake a cake, but with the wind rushing past at such high speeds it wasn't a big deal.
After the ghost horse thing had fallen through, literally, Arnie had offered her one of his cheaper motorcycles to use. Apparently he had a ton of them. It was a thank you for helping them out, but it was also more than that. He owed her one of hell of an apology. On her third or fourth attempt at riding Silver, the horse had remained sturdy, but refused to move. Arnie had tried to help Faith out by giving Silver an almighty slap on the ass. The horse had bolted straight through the tall fence. Faith, who couldn't make herself incorporeal when she needed to, only just escaped serious injury.
The bike-bribe was the only thing that kept his pretty face from being bruised.
Faith pulled back on the throttle just a little, assessing the interchange she was approaching. Seeing it clear enough, she gunned the engine and the red and black Fireblade shot onto I-80. Then it was just her and open road again.
There was still plenty of hours of daylight left and she'd gassed up just outside Denver so there was nothing to stop her or slow her down.
She could keep riding this way forever. For the first time since getting out she was truly celebrating her freedom. She'd always felt more comfortable on the road than staying in one place. Maybe this is what she would do. Just keep on going. Hell, she probably could get all the way to New Zealand if she sussed out the freighter situation careful enough. Arnie might want his bike back someday, but he didn't give her a time limit, and so what anyway. She was still a little pissed at him for damaging her pride and her ass. She might not actually steal it from him, but it sure would be funny to make him pay to have it shipped back from the other side of the world.
And maybe ten thousand miles might be enough distance to get her head together.
And maybe it wouldn't.
Urging the Fireblade up to even greater speeds, Faith left that question for another time and enjoyed her freedom.
They'd spent a nice couple of hours away from the camp.
First they'd headed to the general store to pick up a few extra things for dinner.
While Xander and Kennedy browsed through the lack-of-variety on offer, Buffy had followed an embarrassed Willow to the front counter to speak to the old shop keeper, Owen.
Buffy had never had much to do with him, but on the few occasions that his name came up Buffy had a definite vibe that Giles didn't think much of him. She hadn't found the opportunity to mention it to him yet, and nothing had happened to force the issue. For all Buffy knew the shopkeeper had just short-changed her Watcher.
That aside, Buffy was still a little more alert around him these days than she was most shop assistants, but it was more a subconscious thing than anything she purposely set out to do.
"Uh, sir, this might sound like a stupid question, but..." Willow began.
"I'm sure it's not Miss, now what I can I do for you?" Owen asked when her friend paused mid-question.
"Well the thing is we sort of, well I sort of, lost some..."
"We lost some chickens." Buffy's patience ran out quickly these days. "Half a dozen of them. We were just wondering if anyone has seen them… anywhere?" This was a conversation she'd never imagined having. It kinda made her nostalgic for Riley, even though she could never remember him making any big statements concerning poultry.
"You lost some chickens?"
It sounded to Buffy's ears that the question was meant to be sarcastic, but the look of surprise on the old man's face was confusing. It was like he was less surprised than he should have been. Buffy couldn't quite put her finger on it.
"Uh yes," Willow piped up again while Buffy studied the man carefully. "They were Buckeyes, kind of a red color."
Owen scratched his chin a little. "Good birds, them. So they just wandered off?"
There was that glint in his eyes again, like this conversation was pulling strings in his mind. Buffy's eyes narrowed.
"Not exactly, no," Willow chuckled nervously. "More that they..."
"Because they can wander off you know, Buckeyes can be pretty adventurous." The glint was gone and back was the talkative old shop keeper. "Hardy too. Good birds, like I said; and local."
"So you haven't seen them?" Buffy checked.
He shook his head with a smile. "'Fraid not, Miss, but if I do, I'll send them right back to you."
"Thanks." Willow smiled back, and Xander and Kennedy brought the overflowing basket up to the counter to be checked out.
Buffy stepped back out of the way, still watching Owen and wondering why he was lying. After they left the store they went to the livestock shop so that Willow could ask there about the chickens too, but no one had seen them and Buffy didn't feel anything off about anyone's attitude either. The owner offered to put up a notice in the window asking anyone with any information on the missing chickens to contact them up at the camp.
This brought up the Faith situation again, much to Buffy's dismay, and it was still being discussed as they sat down to cheeseburgers in The Mouth diner.
"If you want to post something on the net then go for it." Buffy fiddled with her fries as she talked. "I just think Xander is right on this one. Not that you aren't usually right, you know, to some degree," she added quickly.
"What?" Xander realised he was being spoken to and quickly swallowed his mouthful of burger to respond.
"I was just saying that putting something on the internet saying we're looking for Faith is asking for trouble." Buffy clarified as she looked inside her burger to pick out the pickle. She dropped it on the side of her plate and closed her burger back up, but still didn't take a bite.
"Even if it didn't cause trouble in the traditional sense it would more than likely get us hundreds if not thousands of responses, especially if we offer a reward. I think it would just confuse things even more," Willow agreed.
"Well what then?" Kennedy asked, easily exasperated by the subject. "How about sky-writing 'Faith you maggot, come home so Buffy can kick your fricken ass!' in pink across the Nevada sky?"
"Not really much of an incentive," Xander mused. "What with the threat of ass-kickage. Change it to ass-kissing and you might be on to a winner."
"Yeah but then I'd sue you for slander," Buffy deadpanned. "If there is any ass-kissing being done when she gets back, it'll be her doing it, that I promise you!" She vowed before taking a big determined bite of her cheeseburger.
Her friends were staring at her, all smiling faintly.
She wiped grease from her lips and looked back. "What?"
The sun was heading back down, making long shadows of the trees and weird rocky pillar things that kept sprouting up as the bike coasted to a stop on the side of the highway.
"Damn!" Faith swung her leg off and fixed the stand so she could let go of the bike. "Damn."
She took off the black helmet Arnie had also loaned her and peered at the bikes digital dashboard display. Tapping it a few times changed nothing. According to the reading she was out of gas.
"Really shoulda checked that thing more," she mused.
They'd picked up Dawn from school after their burgers and the five of them arrived back at the camp in high spirits, even Buffy herself.
It was hard not to smile when Kennedy and Dawn were doing their incessant banter routines; chuck Xander in the middle of it and it was a giggle fest for all.
Buffy was surprised at herself though, for feeling the way she was. She was still upset of course, and there were still a thousand questions buzzing through her mind, but the big one, the fundamental one had been answered on Tuesday night.
No, Faith didn't love her.
It was as simple as that. Because if Faith did love her, then she would be here at the camp, right now. Not off wherever she was doing whatever she was doing. See? Simple.
And a weight had been lifted with that knowledge. Not a huge weight, not the whole thing, but enough for Buffy to get a little perspective. Enough for her to stop wanting to cry or fight all the time.
And so, well she wasn't happy, but she felt she was on the road to happiness, somewhere along the miles and miles of the lonely desert highway that was her life was a place called happiness and she was on her way to it, yes sirree!
As she climbed out of the car after Xander she poked him in the shoulder.
"No more country music for a while, okay?"
He turned, smiling, obviously about to ask why, when a hissed: "Buffee!" Came from a shadowed corner of the garage.
Everyone looked around them for the source. Buffy's sharper ears drew her to one particular corner.
"Elowen?" She asked. It was the only Pixie she'd had much to do with.
The leader of the clan stepped out from behind a wheel of the big jeep. "Naw, it iss Beryan. Ay musst speaak tow yow alown."
"Okay." Buffy stepped forward and everyone else crowded behind her.
Beryan gave everyone but Willow suspicious looks. "Alown!" She reiterated.
"Oh alone! I get it." Buffy shooed her friends away. "Go take the food in to Andrew; I'm sure this won't take a minute."
Beryan waited for everyone to leave before she beckoned Buffy down to her level, as in floor level.
Buffy looked down at the oily, dusty floor of the garage and wrinkled her nose; her pants were not sitting on that floor and so neither was she.
Beryan must have realized what Buffy's hesitation was; she rolled her tiny lavender eyes and with a sigh of impatience leapt up and grabbed the jeep's bull bars. She went up them like a ladder until she could sit on the top-most bar.
"Ay waant tow knaw why yow braak yow'r promyses?"
"Excuse me?" Buffy asked with a frown.
"Ay waant..." The Pixie leader began to repeat her sentence more slowly.
"No I understood you," Buffy interrupted. "I just don't know what you mean. What promise did we break?"
"Tha Waachoors, yow braang they'm heere! Yow knaw whaat thay diid tow uss!"
"Okay, Beryan, slow down." Buffy held her finger up. "You mean the trainees? They're just kids, they won't even be here that long. No one is going back on any agreement. Just keep your heads low, which shouldn't be a problem for you guys, and they'll be gone before you know it. " She grinned at the little leader.
Beryan shook her head in disgust and Buffy wondered what she'd done wrong now.
"Nawt oonlee dow yow nawt taak uss seriouslee, but naw yow maak merriement off uss tow."
The Mawther jumped down and was gone so fast that Buffy didn't even know which direction she had disappeared.
"But, no wait! That was just a joke, 'cause you're...short," she called after the vanished figure. It was no use, Beryan had disappeared. "Wow, I guess I'm not the only person around here with height issues." She chuckled at the little woman's behavior as she left the garage and forgot about the exchange completely as Vi leaned out of the kitchen doorway with the telephone in her hand.
She'd just spent two hours pushing the heavy bike along the edge of the dirty highway and an hour with a greasy mechanic and Faith needed a drink, but first she had to make a phone call.
She pulled a slip of paper out the top pocket of her jacket and went to find the payphone. She tapped her foot while she waited for someone to answer. Eventually someone did.
"Hey Mrs. Jackson; it's me, Faith. Is your Arnold around?"
She heard the old lady shout for her son and exchanged a few pleasantries with her until Arnie took the receiver. His first concern was for the bike.
"It's fine. Well it's not fine. It needs a new front tire, but that's all. I ran out of gas a few miles from Ogallala and had to push it the rest of the way on the side of the road. I guess something pierced it. I'm sorry dude, but I ain't got the money for a new tire. Or more gas for that matter. The owner of the garage I'm in said he'd keep an eye on it for a couple of days, but it's gonna cost you fifty bucks for storage."
She shifted around so she could see the motel, bar and grill on the other side of the road. She wanted some of that. All of that. She hadn't had a single beer since getting out of the joint.
"I'm gonna be staying in the motel across the street tonight and when I go tomorrow I'll leave the keys in their safe. I'll pay for that. So you just gotta go over there to pick them up before you go to the garage for the bike. Okay? Cool, I gotta go. Oh and Arnie; it's a sweet ride - thanks."
She replaced the receiver, waved goodbye to the mechanic and hefted her bag back onto her shoulder. Right she was stuck here for the night. She might as well make the most of it.
Buffy put the phone down and rubbed her hot ear. Fifteen minutes of hellish conversation; it was hardly surprising her ear was hot.
Her friends had gathered around the kitchen table waiting for her to finish and fill in the blanks for them.
She sat down, her expression weary. "That was Faith's parole officer."
"We guessed, but why is he phoning here?" Xander asked immediately.
"Because she's supposed to be here, lame brain." Willow nudged him. "What did he say, do you think he knows?"
"Actually it's a woman and no, she doesn't know, at least I don't think she does." Buffy paused. "Unless she was testing me to see if I would lie to her. Can I go to jail for that?"
"No," Xander casually assured her with a wave of his hand.
"I'm pretty sure you can," Willow countered firmly. "But I doubt it was a test. Giles mentioned something about there being a lot of contact in the first few months until they can assess just how well Faith is adjusting."
"Yeah well he could have told me about it, or better yet been here to take the call himself," Buffy grumbled.
"So did they ring to say they wanna come and see her sooner?" Xander went to the fridge for a beer and got one for Buffy too. "Cause that would be a big red tick in the 'not good' column."
"Thanks," Buffy accepted her beer from him. "No she's still coming Monday, but she wanted to speak to her on the phone first, to say 'hi' I think."
"What did she say when you told her Faith wasn't here?" Willow frowned at her own lack of beverage and stole Xander's.
"Hey I thought you didn't approve of the drinking?" Xander protested.
"That's when you're doing it," Willow grinned. "I have no problem with me doing it."
Grumbling half-heartedly, Xander got himself another.
"Well I told her she was out with Giles and that's why neither of them could come to the phone." Buffy sipped from her drink, musing over the phone call. "She seemed to believe me. She said she'd call back tomorrow." She shrugged.
"Well that's not good!" Xander was almost yelling as he pointed out the obvious.
"Gee, really Xan, why would you say that?" Buffy cut her eyes to the side, shaking her head and running a hand through her hair.
"So what are you going to do?" Willow asked.
"The only thing I can do," Buffy toasted with her beer bottle. "Practice my Faith voice."
The motel tavern was dark and snug in complete contrast to the sunny evening outside. Faith had finished a rack of ribs and a plate of curly fries about an hour before and she was nursing her third chaser when a sweet female voice broke into her thoughts.
"So why don't you tell me about him?"
Faith looked to her left.
"You talking to me?" She asked the complete stranger sliding onto the stool next to her.
The woman smiled at her. "Yeah, is that okay?"
Shrugging Faith downed the shot of Jack Daniels and took a swig of her beer. After she found out there were no rooms available in the motel, she'd decided to spend the money on getting wasted instead. She was celebrating her freedom and hopefully getting drunk enough to sleep on one of the plastic lounger things they had by the tiny pool.
"Depends who you want me to tell you about?"
The woman ordered a drink before she answered. "Whatever guy it is that's got you sitting here drinking alone."
Faith turned on her stool, smirking. "Well for one she's not a guy."
The stranger held her gaze, untroubled. "And for two?"
Faith turned back to the bar, sipping some more of her beer. "She's not the reason I'm drinking alone."
Faith shook her head.
"Then what is?"
The woman looked down at her own drink for a few moments before clearing her throat. "This is probably going to sound really kooky, but I used to be a counselor at this place called Kroakwood..." She paused as if waiting for that to ring a bell with Faith, when it obviously didn't she continued. "It's a correctional facility for teen offenders..."
Faith jumped off of her stool. "Just what are you implying?"
"Nothing, no, I just meant..." The other woman stood up quickly too, raising her palms to calm Faith down. "I wasn't implying anything; I was just giving you some background so you didn't think I was completely deranged when I offered you a friendly ear..."
"Did Angel send you?" Faith took in the stranger. Her own height, maybe a little taller, blonde hair, green eyes, pale skin, attractive. She wore a flowery skirt with a white cotton blouse and an alice-band held her blonde hair back from her face. She wasn't anyone Faith could ever recall meeting in LA or Sunnydale.
"Nobody sent me! What's wrong?"
Faith hadn't even realised she'd been pacing until the woman touched her arm. She shrugged away. "Watchers Council then?"
Faith wiped a hand across her mouth as her tired alcohol addled brain worked as fast as it could. "Look it's okay, you can be honest about it, I'm not gonna run off again. The game's up, I get that, it's fine I'll deal."
A hot shower, another decent meal and a comfortable bed would certainly help with the dealing.
"Okay girl, I think you're beyond any help I can offer." The stranger reached out to touch her arm again real quick and then picked her handbag up from the bar and gave Faith a sad smile. "I hope you get better soon, really."
"I..." Faith asked the strangers back as the blonde left the tavern as fast as she could. "...what?"
She looked about her, still expecting to see a SWAT team heading her way. Nope, although the bar man was looking at her suspiciously.
"Can I get another drink?" She sat back on her stool again, going back to plan A as plan B had obviously been a figment of her imagination.
A beer was placed in front of her and Faith dug into her pocket for her money.
"Let me," came a husky voice from her right and a slender hand offered a ten-dollar bill to the barman. "And I'll have a Bloody Mary."
Faith looked at the owner of the voice and the hand and fought the urge to whistle in appreciation. The chick looked like Halle Berry. "Thanks, and did I by any chance wander into a chick bar without realizing?" she asked with a light chuckle.
Faith had never had a problem hooking up in the most unlikely of places, and a bar wasn't somewhere she'd consider unlikely, but she normally had to do a bit more than just freak people out.
"No, you just have a vibe. Mind if I join you?" The woman took out a cigarette case, opened it and offered one to Faith.
"Thanks. I should warn you though, that going by tonight's track record, I'll have you running off screaming within minutes."
The woman gave her a wicked deliberate once over, before meeting Faith's eyes again. "I think it's going to take a lot to scare me off tonight." She held a gold lighter up to the cigarette now dangling from Faith's mouth.
Faith inhaled to light it. "Is that right?"
The other woman smiled. "That's right."
Faith nodded, leaning back on her stool a little. Maybe she wasn't quite as ready to hand herself in as she thought. What better way to celebrate her freedom than by having a chick this hot buying her free drinks all night? And maybe if Faith played her cards right there were other advantages to be had, as well.
"So, I suppose you've got a motel room all of your very own?" Faith wondered out loud.
"Want to see it?" The woman raised an eyebrow and blew a seductive smoke ring Faith's way.
Faith laughed. "Maybe later."
Faith woke up feeling like her head was gonna explode.
As soon as she realised that it wasn't a dream and her head really was about to explode, she sluggishly lifted her hands to hold it, trying desperately to drown out the loud rumbling going on inside.
Her whole body was vibrating too, making her about ready to hurl.
What the hell was going on?
"Right everyone, gather round," Giles called out.
Everyone in the backyard did as he bid, something that didn't happen very often. Maybe he was finally getting through to them.
"Okay, so we'll be going in the truck to Cleveland today, because as you know we're still waiting for the mechanic to come out and assess the extent of the damage to the minibus."
He looked pointedly at Peter Jones.
"What? I said I'm sorry," Peter scowled.
"Actually as a matter of fact you haven't," Anthony Milestone piped up.
"Maybe I did it during one of the three seconds of the day when you're not in my face," Peter responded cruelly.
"Rest assured I have no desire..."
"Okay, okay, let's not waste time going over it again," Buffy interrupted them. "The bus has gone kaboom and we have to deal. Let's just get on with it. Giles is driving and Naomi and I are sitting up front with him. All the boys will fit in the back."
Giles noticed she was looking about them, puzzled. "What is it Buffy?"
"Is someone missing?"
No one said a word in answer, but he noticed a strange look on Naomi's face that he couldn't quite put his finger on.
It was Reece who finally answered. "No, we're all here. Shall we make a move?"
Buffy shrugged and headed towards the truck. Giles sighed wearily, waving for everyone to follow.
Craig watched out of the boy's dormitory window as the truck pulled around the side of the house and disappeared. As he started to walk out the door he saw Andrew walking from the garage to a wood and brick building further back. He was carrying a tool box whistling a flat tune to himself. Craig smiled.
Once Andrew was out of sight Craig chanced leaving the dorm and darted up to the back door of the house. He was dying for a drink and while the house was quiet he was hoping to get a look inside Ms. Rosenberg's magic room too.
He poked his head halfway through the door. Seeing no sign of life, his confidence grew and he walked boldly inside and up to the fridge. As he swung the door open looking for milk a sharp voice from behind made him jump and spin around.
It was one of the Slayers. Ms. Rosenberg's girlfriend, if Craig had sussed it out right.
"I said: What are you doing sneaking around?" She repeated.
"I wasn't sneaking; I just wanted a glass of milk," he defended himself.
Willow poked her head around the magic room door. "Oh Craig, hi! It's you. How are you doing? Hang on..." Sharp green eyes pinned him to the spot and he scratched the back of his head, trying to act nonchalant. "Aren't you supposed to be on your way to the library in Cleveland so you can search non-demonic history books for evidence of demons in history?"
"Am I?" He tried.
Willow came out of her magic room completely now, carrying a large box which Kennedy immediately took from her. "Oh Craig, don't tell me you missed the bus again. Giles is a stickler for punctuality, and so far your score sheet is not looking all that impressive," she gently chided him.
"Wouldn't worry about that," Craig muttered to himself, a little amused.
"What was that?" Kennedy asked.
"Okay, you caught me." He grinned at them both. "I'm skiving. It's just, it's a beautiful day an' all, I didn't fancy spending it cooped up in a dark library - that's what rainy days are for."
Willow wasn't letting up. "Craig you don't seem to be taking this all very seriously."
"No I am," he assured them, his attention more on the wide open door of the magic room.
Neither woman seemed in any hurry to close it. "I just don't see what I'm going to learn about demons by reading Grimm's fairytales." He shrugged.
"Actually...probably even more than I can imagine." Willow chuckled, but it only took a second or two for her serious expression to come back. "But it's mostly to test your researching skills," she explained.
"And those can't be tested in the sun?"
"Well I'm not the expert. I think we should take you into Cleveland so you can meet up with Giles and the others." Willow looked at her girlfriend. "He really shouldn't miss any more of the schedule."
Craig's shoulders slumped.
So did Kennedy's: "You want to waste two hours driving into the city and back?" Kennedy moaned. "He chose to bunk off, let him deal with the consequences. Better yet..." Kennedy hefted the box in her arms and pushed it gently into Craig's chest. "You can carry this outside for Will and then you can help with her hocus pocus."
Craig grabbed at the slightly heavy box before it could fall to the ground, his mouth agape.
"Yeah, let me do that." He nodded, quickly recovering from his surprise.
He was actually going to help Willow Rosenberg do magic! He'd been awestruck just from observing how easily she'd performed the locator spells a few days ago, but to actually be allowed to participate...
"I don't know." Willow wasn't convinced yet. "I know you have an interest in magic, but I'm pretty sure Giles would want you doing what he wants you doing which is what everyone else is doing."
"But I'd still be learning, right?" Craig pushed. "I can take the research exam another time."
Willow looked at Kennedy, biting her lip.
Kennedy smiled back. "Look at it this way, Will. With three of us gardening we'll get done that much quicker and if you like I'll quiz him on demons as we work."
"Gardening?" Craig, puzzled, looked down into the box he was carrying. It was full with seed packets, heavy-duty gloves, a short fork and trowel and other gardening utensils.
Willow grinned at him, obviously noting his disappointed expression. "I bet you wish you'd gone to the library now, huh?"
No, he just wished he'd come in looking for a glass of milk half an hour later.
"Come on." Kennedy gestured him through the open back door. "Right, question one: What demon has a taste for billy-goats?"
Craig cast one last look over his shoulder before leaving the kitchen. They were leaving the magic room door open so all he had to do was sneak back in while the women were gardening.
"Uh...trolls?" he guessed.
Faith finally regained her senses enough to peep out from whatever heavy plastic was covering her into the too-bright world.
She swallowed the queasiness down and poked her head out further.
Whoa...why was the world traveling past at a hundred miles an hour?
With one hand still held to her head to keep it on her neck, she maneuvered herself so she could look around a bit.
She was in a flatbed truck. A beaten up, dirty, junk-filled red truck to be precise. Going...somewhere, very fast.
With a groan Faith slumped over sideways and made herself comfortable within the clutter while she tried to remember how the hell she'd gotten herself into this sitch.
The shower block was as humid as hell, and smelly from the rotten wood, but it wasn't in as nearly as bad a shape as Xander had at first feared.
He ripped up another section of the moldy floor with the claw end of his hammer and flinched as a splinter of wood broke away and smacked into the lenses of his safety glasses.
He readjusted them before sinking the claw into the next plank with some force. "So are we going to get it all done today?" Andrew was up the other end of the long building doing the same job as Xander.
"No, we're just pulling up the floor today, letting the place air out, making sure there's no creepy-crawlies lying in wait under here to bite someone to death and getting it ready for when the plumber finally gets back to me."
"You still don't know when he's coming?" Andrew's voice held the accusatory tone that Xander did not in the least care for.
"I've phoned him five times, what more can I do? I'll grant you I could have gone to plumber school and learned the craft myself in the time it seems to be taking to return my phone calls, but I don't have time for that!"
"Sorry," Andrew muttered. "It's just the bathroom's so crowded and it's making everyone cranky."
Andrew's apology and the satisfying crack of another chunk of floor coming up calmed Xander down. "You don't have to tell me, although I don't think it's just the bathroom. We'll concentrate on getting the floor up today so I can figure out if we have to call pest control or possibly a Slayer and then we'll call it a day."
"Okay." Andrew looked around at the damp, musty room; there was still a lot of floor to uncover. "This is gonna take forever."
"Well it had better not. I promised Willow I'd make her a chicken run this afternoon."
"Even though we don't actually have the chickens, you know, at the moment?" Andrew pointed out as he used both hands to try and tug his hammer from the warped floorboards.
Faith felt the first few big spots of rain hit her face and she cursed the sky and her luck loudly. There was no need to be quiet, no one inside the truck was going to hear her with the way the wind was rushing by, and the noise of the engine combined with the constant reverberating roar of the tires on asphalt meant Faith could barely hear herself either.
Her stomach had settled a little and the pounding in her head had subsided to a low ache, but she wasn't feeling any better about things. She was hungry and thirsty and any minute now she was going to be drenched too.
Pulling the tarp she'd originally woken up underneath over as much of her as she could while still being able to see around, Faith looked at the key she'd found in her pocket an hour ago.
It was from the motel she'd eaten at last night, but Faith remembered there being no rooms vacant when she'd asked and she obviously hadn't spent the night in a motel room 'cause she was on the road to God knew where with God knew who.
So she had a mysterious and completely useless key and in turn had lost her bag, which funnily enough held almost all of her worldly possessions. It wasn't what she would call a fair exchange. She'd already had a good look around the back of the truck and her bag definitely wasn't there which meant she left it at the place in Ogallala.
All she had were the clothes on her back, a couple of bills in the back pocket of her jeans, some loose change in a hip pocket and in the inside pockets of her denim jacket she had: A crumpled packet of Marlborough Reds, her Zippo and, thank God, her release papers.
She also had a useless fricken key too so things weren't all bad.
With a sneer of disgust she chucked the key over the side of the truck and watched it bounce once before disappearing into the grass on the roadside.
The truck slowed a little and Faith ducked under the tarpaulin completely in case someone spotted her though the small rectangular window from the cab.
After a second or two the truck sped back up and Faith poked her head out once more to stare at the blurry scenery.
Giles had prearranged for them to use a small basement room of the Cleveland library for the research session. Originally it had been so the watcher trainees weren't distracted from their studies, but a few days in the presence of the kids had made it clear to Buffy it was the general public that needed to be spared the distraction.
The subterranean room was filled with the noise of three boys not doing as they were supposed to and another boy complaining that he couldn't do as he was supposed to because of the noise.
Buffy leaned back against a shelf of dusty cardboard files and tried to block it all out as she spoke on her cell-phone:
"No I'm not at Grand Central Station, Wesley, I'm in a library."
"Yeah I know it's hard to tell the difference. Were you like this when you were a baby watcher?" Buffy chuckled into the phone at Wesley's response. "No, somehow I didn't really think you were. Any tips on taming them?"
Buffy wandered around the central table as she listened to Wesley, looking over the kids' shoulders at their work. There wasn't a whole lot to see.
Reece had written plenty, but his handwriting was small and barely legible at a glance, a bit like Giles'. Peter's paper was still plain white, with the edges torn up to make paper bombs. Rajiv's was covered in cartoon doodles with just one or two lines of actual work jotted down in spider writing. Anthony was on to his second sheet of paper, despite his moaning about being unable to work, and the area around him was covered with tiny little paper bombs.
"Well Wes, I like your idea, but I think Giles will frown if we send half the group home with, what did you call it...?
"Yeah, a thick ear. I'll pass it along though. Now what I really called about..."
As Wesley interrupted her, anticipating her question, Buffy stopped talking and picked up a chair. Carrying it to the little desk at the wall where Naomi had seated herself away from the others, Buffy sat down next to her to see what she was doing.
Naomi had two pieces of paper in front of her and as she found references she obviously thought were important in her selection of books, she jotted them down identically on both pieces.
Bemused, Buffy watched as she listened to her one-time Watcher relating all the news that the LA crew had regarding Faith.
In big, loopy handwriting the attractive trainee filled the two pieces of paper up and, after putting them to one side, grabbed some fresh sheets and opened another book ready to start again.
"So the police have the car then?"
Buffy's voice made Naomi jump and shuffle the papers together as if they contained something secretly important instead of a list of possible demons taken from an encyclopaedia of the twentieth century.
"Okay well let me know when you have anything new. Thanks Wes." Buffy closed her phone and put it away. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"That's quite alright, I just didn't realize anyone was sitting so close to me, I was rather caught up in my research." Naomi now had her papers in a neat pile and her hands rested on top, adding to the secrecy.
"Well at least one of you is." Buffy flicked her hand to indicate the rest of the small room.
Naomi sighed. "They'll have it done before Mr. Giles comes back I assure you. They all know this might be their one shot at a place, but they resent authority, well... your authority mostly."
"Why, what did I do?"
Now Naomi smiled. "Exactly what you were supposed to. You won. Now here we all are, playing by new rules in a new place and some of the older families aren't too pleased about it. They'll come around; well, some of them will, I'm sure."
"So they blame me for the Council buildings back in London being blown up?" Buffy frowned at the girl. "That's not fair! I didn't even know about it until Giles told me the day after and it wasn't like I planted the explosives. That was the evil side!"
This time Naomi's smile was sad as she said in her cultured English accent. "The prophecies written about the First's upsurgence all had one thing in common."
"Me, right?" Buffy chuckled darkly. "If you knew the amount of blood and ink that has been wasted on me over the centuries..."
"I do actually," Naomi interrupted. "I wrote my thesis on Prophecy regarding the Slayer: Buffy Summers."
"Oh, well that's kinda cool. What did you get?"
"A Council commendation and a plane ticket to Cleveland."
"And what's that on the A - F grade system?" Buffy checked.
"An A-plus, I suppose." A bashful smile graced the English girl's rosy features. "Possibly with a gold star."
"I'm impressed." Buffy smiled. "So I should probably keep you around, huh? Seeing as you know everything that's going to happen, or might happen, to me ever!"
"It's not quite as concise a science as that," Naomi pointed out, chuckling. "But if you'd like to put in a good word for me with Mr. Giles, I wouldn't be offended."
"I'll bear that in mind. So if your Buffy-thesis was your ticket here, does that mean all of you got Council Commendations?"
"No, only Reece and I, but we all passed the necessary criteria for entry into the Slayer Assignment program."
"All of you," Buffy looking surprised leaned closer to whisper: "Even Peter?"
Naomi's smile got bigger. "I know it's hard to believe, isn't it?"
Across the room, a pen bounced off of Anthony's head.
"I think they need stricter criteria." Buffy sighed.
The floorboards were all pulled up and Xander had satisfied himself that there was nothing underneath that he couldn't handle with a bit of spider-spray and a good hosing down. Not that he planned to be the one handling it.
"Okay, you got it, is it comfortable?" he asked.
"It's a little heavy but I'll be alright."
As Andrew started to tip over backwards, Xander steadied him with hands on his shoulders.
"You're doing great Andy. Now you want to hold the hose like this. Hey don't point it at me, point it that way!"
"S'okay, just, for all we know this stuff melts flesh and if it does I don't want to find out first hand."
Andrew considered that while Xander helped him turn to face the open shower block door.
"Do you think I should wear gloves?"
"No, you'll be fine," Xander told him confidently. "Here, let me pull your goggles down for you. Don't want this stuff getting near your eyes."
Andrew held his head up as Xander fiddled with the plastic and rubber safety goggles, getting them comfortably over the blonde's eyes.
"Can you see okay?"
"Okay, pull your mask up, that's it, so it covers your nose too, atta boy. You look ready for Arachnid warfare now, soldier." Xander clapped him on the back, nearly tipping him forward, but catching the thick black straps of the gas filled backpack he pulled him upright again.
Andrew beamed nervously behind his mask. "Are you sure we shouldn't be calling in the professionals?"
"Nah, you'll do fine. Just remember to point the nozzle downwards when you pull the trigger." Xander tapped the trigger halfway up the hose fitting. He looked down at Andrew's sneakers and then at his own steel-toed work boots. "Here, we're about the same size; swap shoes with me."
Xander quickly pulled at his laces before forcing first one boot and then the other off of his feet and kicking them towards the younger man.
"Because they go better with the rest of the get-up." Xander lied easily, not wanting to admit that the flimsy sneakers Andrew wore were easily bite through-able and might also possibly dissolve if the death spray were to touch them.
Andrew accepted his lie readily and, with Xander's help, changed into the boots. "How does that look?" He asked, when, with Xander's help, he was standing again.
"Very cool. Now go get them! I'll be standing right..." Xander looked at the big red skull and crossbones on the poisonous backpack Andrew was wearing. "...over there!" He pointed towards the vegetable patch, where he could see Willow and some others working.
"Okay," Andrew jiggled his goggles back into a more comfortable position. "I'm going in!"
Chuckling at the younger man, Xander watched as he unsteadily entered the shower room and began spraying the ground. Then, on his socked feet, he wandered away to phone the plumber again and to find his wood scraps for the chicken run.
Faith had no idea how long she had been laying in the back of the truck when she finally started feeling well enough to move, but judging by her stomach she'd missed both breakfast and lunch.
She wasn't sure whether they were heading North or South or whatever, but they'd been on the road for hours without stopping, so there was a good chance that they were hundreds of miles away from Ogallala by now.
Occasionally the truck passed through small, industrialized towns with names Faith had never heard of, but mostly they kept to the big Interstate roads, making it harder for her to find a jump off point. She didn't fancy hitting the asphalt at sixty miles an hour if there was another option, but she was tired of lying under the dirty tarpaulin and her hunger was almost enough to have her screaming now.
Life on the open road was never as romantic as it sounded. Why didn't she ever remember that until she was wet, dirty and starving? Hadn't she had enough romance on her last coast to coast road trip five years before?
Looking back now, she almost wished she hadn't run that first time. Maybe she should have gone to ground and just bided time until an opportunity to stake Kakistos had come up.
Sure, she'd have probably ended up dead, but that might have been preferable to lying in the back of this stinking truck with the sour taste of the night before still stuck to her tongue and teeth and a big ache from the hollow space in her belly.
Not for the first time since she'd woken up, Faith's mind wandered to what she might be doing if she had just met up with Giles and Wes like she was supposed to.
She couldn't imagine it though, not really.
She tried to picture the life the Scoobies and company had made for themselves in rural Ohio, but she couldn't do it. Kennedy's letter hadn't told her much and Angel, Wes and Gunn didn't know anything and Giles, on his one visit to the prison, had merely made ominous remarks about cows and... Pixies! If she'd heard him right, that was. He hadn't gone into any details and Faith, trying to act uninterested, hadn't pushed him for any.
Faith didn't mind cows, but she wasn't too sure how people farmed Pixies, or even if Pixies existed. Maybe he'd meant something else.
Faith looked up again as the truck began to slow down. It veered to the right and then they were sweeping down an exit ramp and onto a smaller tree-lined road.
Taking in this development, Faith perked up a little and started looking around for a good jump off point.
Willow wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes as she told her tale, sticking mud to her eyelash without even realizing it. "So we jumped into Giles' little sports car to give chase..."
"How did you know which direction to go in?" Kennedy asked, grinning.
"Well the felled lamp posts and broken street signs gave us a clue. So there we are, following the destruction across town at break-neck speed and that's when Anya tells me she's never driven a car before! How she got us there in one piece is a mystery to me, but she did, but Giles' car was a convertible and the pages of the magic book I needed to reverse the spell all blew away in the wind and..." Willow had to stop again as she remembered the frantic bickering between herself and Anya and more giggles overtook her.
"So what happened when you caught him?" Craig didn't stop planting the tiny purple seeds he'd been entrusted with as he laughed along with Willow's story. "Did you magic him back into the crystal?"
"Not then no, that would have been too simple. Before that the Bronze, our favorite club, got destroyed and we found out that it was Anya's old boyfriend we'd released, and that just added to the Mayhem-y fun."
"Anya dated a troll?" Kennedy asked, her own laughter coming now.
"Who's Anya?" Craig asked. He couldn't remember hearing her name from anyone before.
A shadow fell over him and Willow looked stricken all of a sudden, her laughter disappearing in an instant.
"She was this Vengeance Demon that got trapped on the mortal plane by Giles when she tried to turn Sunnydale into a bizarro world overrun with Vampires. Apparently. I mean she was definitely a Vengeance Demon, but we only have her word about the wish because none of us remember it, well that and Willow and I were both dead in that world, so we probably wouldn't have remembered much anyway."
Craig had jumped at the unexpected voice behind him and turned now, spilling seeds, to see who it belonged to.
It was Alexander Harris, the tall, dark-haired man with the eyepatch. Craig had never even spoken to him, but Andrew talked like Xander was his hero. It made him more than a bit interested in the one-eyed fellow.
"So she was evil then?" The lad asked.
"No!" Willow said at once, shaking her head hard. "At least, not really."
Xander gave Craig a small smile before sitting down next to the gardening trio. He'd been carrying some wood and a tool box and he set these to one side. "That would depend on how you view evil. If you consider capitalism evil then yeah, she was worse than the devil. Otherwise, she wasn't really evil; she just had a sucky job... which she just really happened to enjoy before she was de-demonized."
Willow sat quietly, laying her own pinkish seeds in the ground one by one and sharing the occasional glance with Kennedy, who had given up all pretense of gardening and was laying on her stomach her chin resting on her crossed arms.
This was the first time since they'd arrived in Boudenver, since Riley and his army pals had shown up at the crater even, that Willow could recall Xander willingly having a conversation about Anya, and he had a smile on his face too! It was a sad smile sure, but heaps better than the usual tight-lipped, tick-inducing frown he normally wore if her name was so much as uttered.
"So where is she now?" As soon as Craig asked the question, he realized by everyone's faces what the answer was going to be. "She died, didn't she?"
Xander had lost his smile, but he didn't close entirely back up. Poking through his toolbox, avoiding eye contact with anyone, he nodded. "Yeah, she did."
Craig looked helplessly from Willow to Kennedy, asking to be rescued from this conversation he'd waded into, but neither of them seemed to know what to say.
"So were the two of you close? I mean, you know?" He asked, biting his bottom lip slightly.
Xander chuckled at some private thought before answering. "We dated for a while, sure."
"I'm sorry, man. That's harsh."
Xander just nodded, his good eye still searching for nails in his toolbox.
An awkward silence descended. The easy banter shared between Craig, Willow and Kennedy had died and the only sound was the clinking noise of Xander moving tools around and bird song from the nearby trees.
Until another shadow fell over all four of them, blotting out the sun and bringing with it the stench of death. They all looked up as the figure collapsed at their feet, face down.
"All done?" Xander asked.
"Andrew?" Craig moved from the bed of herbs to the fallen figure's side. "Is that you? Are you alright?"
"Craig!" Andrew's muffled voice could be heard as he tried to roll to the side, but the gas pack on his back was too heavy. "My goggles are all misty, I can't see anything!"
Craig gently reached down and pulled the goggles from his head, careful not to pull his hair with the straps. "That better?"
"Thanks." Andrew tried to roll again, but still couldn't manage it. With difficulty he managed to lift his chin and pull the mask down, away from his mouth and nose. "I need a cool, refreshing cherry cola," he groaned.
"No you need a shower." Kennedy got to her knees and scrambled away, waving a hand in front of her nose. "What the hell have you been doing?"
"I feel like the Green Goblin." Andrew tried again to roll, looking like a tortoise stuck on its back. "Only not evil... anymore."
"He's been ridding the old shower block of poisonous creepy crawlies so that when I finally get hold of the damn plumber it's all ready for him." Xander had set up a little work area now and was measuring lengths of plywood to find four roughly the same size.
"Is that safe?" Craig asked, still looking at Andrew's panting form with concern.
"Yeah, just don't sniff him too hard."
"Don't sniff me until I've had time to shower!" Andrew found the extra strength he needed and he pushed himself quickly to his hands and knees.
Everyone looked at Andrew.
"Not that you'd have any reason to... to sniff, uh, me." His cheeks went a little red.
Willow and Kennedy shared a smirk and Xander raised an eyebrow at him.
Craig fought back his urge to smile. "I'll go get you that coke."
As he ran to the kitchen he heard Xander casually ask: "So Andrew, something you want to share?" and then he let himself smile.
The kitchen was cool, quiet and empty as Craig entered and went straight to the large refrigerator. It opened with a squeak and he scanned the shelves for the fizzy drinks. They were behind the beer bottles on the top shelf. There was a variety to choose from including the cherry cola that Andrew had mentioned.
He grabbed a can, and then grabbed a few more in case anyone else wanted a cold drink.
He had a feeling Andrew would be uncomfortable with Craig singling him out in front of his friends. In fact over the few days they'd known each other, Andrew seemed pretty uncomfortable around Craig all the time, but it hadn't stopped Andrew from making him feel as comfortable as possible. Grabbing a few extra sodas was a small price to pay for returning the favor.
Craig didn't fancy anything fizzy himself and, because it was the easiest thing to steal, Naomi had been bringing him nothing but bottled water since their arrival. He balanced all the cans in one arm and reached into the fridge for one of the large milk cartons. Lifting it awkwardly, for it was pretty big; he flipped the top open with his index finger and lifted the hole to his mouth, guzzling the milk down happily.
By the time his thirst was quenched there was only an inch or so left in the bottom and it seemed pointless to put that back, so he lifted the carton again and drained the remains as he turned towards the bin. He didn't want to waste any more time in the kitchen than he had to with Andrew, and the others, waiting for him out there.
Turning to the bin meant that he was looking towards the still-open door to the magic room.
He'd forgotten about that!
He'd actually gotten really into the gardening, or more likely the stories Willow and Kennedy were telling him in the name of having him learn something, and the whole point of him being there - at Sunset Camp - had slipped his mind. He could just imagine how that would go over if his old man found out.
Craig started for the small magic room, but stopped by the kitchen table looking down at the cans in his arms. Andrew was outside waiting for his drink and if he didn't go back with it, someone might come in looking for one and he'd be caught red-handed.
A look out of the window showed his new friends still sitting by the herb patch to the back of the garden and Craig quickly crossed the rest of the kitchen to the off-limits room. If he could just find what he needed straight away then he could stick it in his pocket and be right back outside.
Inside, the room wasn't much bigger than a pantry, really. Two opposing walls were lined with shelves which were filled from floor to ceiling. One with various different sizes and colors of storage containers: boxes, jars, tubs, bottles and in one peculiar case, what looked like a green bubble, and the other with books, hundreds of books. Opposite the doorway Craig was standing in there was a window, a couple of square feet wide, above a small, neat desk. The view from the window was mostly obscured by a large bush growing right outside, but he didn't care what was outside the room; it was inside that held, hopefully, what he needed.
Craig scanned the storage boxes closest to eye-level, finding that they all seemed to hold ingredients inside. The content was written on the front of the box in both its common name and its old name. Usually in Latin, but sometimes in languages Craig couldn't begin to recognize - let alone understand.
In thirty seconds he spotted: A jar of Black Panther teeth (Olho da pantera preta), another of Salamander Eyes (some hieroglyphic type symbols) and Grizzledell Root (Racine grisonnante de vallon). All of these caught his eye and he smiled as he thought of the possibilities, but none were what he was actually after.
He looked up and down the room with a groan; it would take him an hour at least to check every single ingredient in the room. He didn't have an hour right now; he wanted to get back to Andrew, but if the room had been left unlocked once then it would be again. Craig would just have to keep up his vigilance.
With a last little grin at the Grizzledell Root, he left the Magic room and took his armful of cans outside.
The roads had been getting busier for a while and Faith, not wanting to draw to much attention to herself, crouched low in the back of the truck waiting for her moment.
It came a few minutes later when the traffic signals up ahead turned red and the truck had to slow down. Just before they pulled to a complete stop, the lights changed to green again and the driver began to accelerate, but Faith had had enough. Taking a split second to judge the speed, she hopped up and over the side of the moving vehicle.
Landing on the balls of her feet, she narrowly missed being mowed down by a beeping black van in the other lane. She saw the driver lean out of his window with his fist raised, his curses whipped away on the wind.
The truck she'd been riding in, having realised maybe for the first time that they had a passenger, slammed on its breaks with a squeal, coming to a stop twelve feet away from Faith.
The passenger jumped out, walking down the centre of the road, getting more honks from the busy traffic as several cars had to swerve to avoid first Faith and then him.
"Hey! What were you doing in the back there?" The passenger demanded, still coming closer. "What the hell were you doing in the back of my buddy's truck?"
The driver, his 'buddy' presumably, was out on the road now too and he was pulling something like a metal pole out of the door after him.
"Now this is what I call 'keeping a low profile'," muttered Faith.
With one last look at the guy coming towards her, she turned around and ran across the road. Cars slammed on their breaks, but she was gone too fast to be in any danger.
Giles had come back an hour before and, as promised, the boys soon calmed down and got on with what they were supposed to be doing. There was still more chatter than Giles probably would have liked, but he seemed happy to let it go for as long as work was actually being done at the same time.
Buffy and Naomi were sat in the same places they had been during the morning, but now Buffy was flicking through some files Giles had asked her to read and Naomi was hard at work on the afternoon's exercise. She was still making an exact copy of everything she wrote.
Buffy finished browsing the folder on the latest Slayer to be found and stretched in the increasingly uncomfortable chair. She watched the young trainee for a few minutes in silence.
"You know they probably have a Xerox machine upstairs if you really want a spare copy of everything," she finally blurted.
Again Naomi did the quick shuffle which brought all the papers into a neat pile. "I don't, uh, that is... I find it sticks in my brain better if I write it down twice."
"Okay." Buffy looked about her, bored. When nothing else caught her eye she turned back to Naomi. "So those sandwiches Giles brought back for us hardly touched the sides. Do you want to somewhere to grab a mocha and a piece of pie?" She asked hopefully.
Naomi looked like she liked the idea, but she tapped her papers. "I really should do this."
Buffy kept her voice low enough so only Naomi could hear her. "Come on, just half an hour. We'll tell Giles we're going to find the bathroom."
Naomi looked torn, but eventually she nodded with a smile. "Okay, I guess I won't fall behind in half an hour."
Buffy stood, motioning for Naomi to do the same. Everyone still seated, including Giles, looked up at them.
"We're just going to find the ladies room, Giles. Won't be long."
Giles nodded as they strode together to the doorway.
"If I need the ladies room, can I get the hell out of here too?" Peter piped up, gaining chuckles from Reece and Rajiv.
"Sure," Buffy drawled as she passed behind his seat. "I can make it so no one can tell the difference too, if you like?" She made a cutting motion with her fingers. "Of course, I don't actually have a pair of scissors on me, so it wouldn't be quite as neat as that, but..." She turned at the door to face him, asking brightly: "So, you coming?"
"The rumors are true then," Peter sat back calmly, aware that his friends were now laughing at him instead of with him. "You really are a castrating b..."
"Jones!" Giles cut him off sternly. "Finish that sentence and you'll be on the next flight to Heathrow."
"But not before I've shown you just how castrating I can be," Buffy promised.
Once on the street, Buffy and Naomi passed by a couple of promising looking places in favor of just being in the fresh air for a while. The small basement room they'd been in all morning had been getting more than a little stuffy and both girls were glad of the break.
"How about here?" Buffy eventually asked as they passed a nice looking patisserie with a few empty tables outside.
Naomi agreed and they went in to order big slices of pie and drinks.
After they'd ordered they came back to an empty table outside and sat in the metal chairs arranged around it. The two young women sat in silence for a minute, taking in their surroundings as they waited for their orders to arrive.
Buffy wasn't sure what to say now that she'd gotten the Watcher trainee alone. It wasn't as if she knew a lot about her, and no suitable conversation openers were throwing themselves at her voice box. Blurting out 'So do you know which prophecy of my death is actually going to be the one that sticks?' seemed a tad abrupt and Buffy wasn't so sure she'd want to know anyway. What if it was tomorrow? Or in ten minutes? Maybe there was a prophecy about her being hit by a Cleveland bus on a warm October afternoon in the year of 2003. Best not to know then, but now, typically, that was all she could think about.
Just as Naomi started to look uncomfortable with the silence, Buffy blurted out the only other thing in her mind:
"How do you get your hair so shiny?"
Naomi made a small amused sound, which reminded Buffy of Giles, and ran a hand through her white-gold mane.
"I, er... use a lemon and honey treatment actually."
"Oh," Buffy was taken aback by that. "I thought you were just going to recommend a really expensive shampoo. Honey and lemon, really?"
"Well actually it's lemon and then honey - I can write down the details for you once we get back to the camp if you like, it's quite simple."
"That'd be cool, thanks!"
The plates of pie arriving disturbed the sudden girlyness and Buffy lapsed back into silence while she tried to think up something else to talk about.
Naomi beat her to it. "Can I ask, Miss Summers, why the Last Slayer has asked me out to lunch?"
"Well first off, we don't like to say the word Slayer too loud in public," Buffy admonished with a grin; not registering the full sentence.
"I'm sorry, of course. At home it's not often that I'm in the company of people unused to the term."
"Don't worry about it, we've all gotten a little lax on the whole secret identity thing, but isn't that a bit boring? You really never get to just hang with normal kids?" She'd always assumed it was just the slayers that got the isolation treatment.
"The students at the Council Academy are 'normal kids' to me. After school is finished for the day we do the usual things like shopping, or the cinema or hanging out at the bottom of the Rugby field when it's dry. Sometimes on Saturday nights a group of us sneak into town and go to the local club - which is a dive of course, but they are never very thorough with their proof of age checks so it's easy to get in." Naomi paused for a mouthful of pie; after she'd swallowed she spoke again. "I should be speaking in past tense of course."
"Why, 'cause you're ...what's the legal drinking age there?" Buffy scooped some more of her own pie onto her fork.
She'd have to remember this place, it was pretty good. Not that she'd probably ever be able to find it again. In fact she wasn't one hundred percent sure she'd even be able to find her way back to the library they'd come from.
"Eighteen, and yes I'm over eighteen now, but I actually meant because I have graduated. I don't actually attend the school anymore."
"Wow, I guess I find it hard to imagine a whole school of Watchers," Buffy said after a few minutes of thought. "I've had two of them, well three if you count Wesley and I don't very often, and they've both, all, been pretty old, pretty boring and pretty British - I think I thought they just sort of popped them out of the mould when they needed a new one. To think there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of them running around is kinda wow, and a little creepy, no offense."
"None taken, and while there most certainly are more than a thousand watchers, their ages range from twenty-one to one hundred and three and they are spread over more than ninety percent of the countries around the world, so there's not much threat of them all banding together to come at you." Naomi put down her fork and pushed some hair away from her forehead in a frustrated manner. "And again I should be speaking in past tense; two hundred and forty people lost their lives when the bombs at the London headquarters exploded, all but seven of them were watchers."
"I'm sorry," Buffy shook her head, "I never really stopped to think about how many or who they were..."
"Because they were Watchers?" Naomi asked, her tone sharp.
"No, because I was busy getting ready to go to war against the bastard responsible." Buffy replied, equally as sharp.
Thinking back though, Buffy couldn't recall feeling any compassion for those that had died in the blast, in fact she'd never even commented on it after being told. She didn't have to be honest with the new girl if she didn't want to be, but she couldn't lie to herself and she knew her thoughtlessness did stem from the fact that they were Watchers.
Even though it hadn't been a conscious thought at the time, sitting here with someone directly connected to what she now knew had been a devastating loss of life, made her feel pretty callous about it.
And that thought led to an even more depressing one! She had sat many times since with someone directly connected to the Watchers Council in London and she'd never thought to ask him, Giles, if he'd lost anyone he was close to that day.
"Did you..." Buffy began softly, making Naomi look to her. "Did you lose any family?"
"An elderly Aunt, we were never close, she never had any time for children. I was lucky after a fashion, my father and Mr. Travers never saw eye to eye and a month before the explosion they had the most awful row about how Quentin was handling the Council with regards to the First's threat. My father stormed out, refusing to co-operate with Quentin's plans and the matter still hadn't been resolved when the the attack was made on the headquarters."
"So your dad is alive because he didn't agree with how Travers was handling the deal with the First and Travers got blown up because of the way he was handling it? I wouldn't have said that was luck so much as karma," decided Buffy.
"Yes well if it wasn't for the other two hundred and thirty nine people who lost their lives that day, you could call it poetic justice."
"Yeah well I feel bad for them, but me and Travers never saw eye to eye either and I find it hard to muster the sympathy."
"The irony, such as it is, was found in the session transcripts," Naomi continued.
"But how were there transcripts?" Buffy interrupted her. "I thought the whole building went kaboom. Giles said hardly anything was salvageable."
"Every time the Council sat for session, which happens - happened, at least once a day even when all was quiet, it was recorded, not just on paper but on a digital recording device too. A lot can be said during a session and not all Watchers bother to master their patience, leading to a lot of it all being said at once." Naomi paused to smile. "According to Elizabeth Heally, the minutes keeper, she broke three pencils the day my father and Mr. Travers had their last dispute. The digital recorder is there to ensure that nothing at all is missed. Whatever is recorded is automatically backed up to a large storage-receiver in the basement, which is accessible not just to the network within the Headquarters, but also from a number of different locations around England..."
"Never put all your chickens in one basket." Buffy nodded in understanding.
"Er, quite." Naomi didn't look so much with the understanding, but she was a Watcher trainee and she rallied like the best of them. "Experts were able to hear the final conversation held in the session and their transcripts make it quite clear that in his last minutes Quentin proposed to send as many Watchers to Sunnydale as soon as possible, including many high-ranking members such as himself, to assess the situation and act accordingly."
From the girl's expression when she finished, Buffy had an inkling as to what was coming next and she beat her to it.
"That was what your dad wanted to do all along, wasn't it?"
"Actually yes, although I don't think he intended it to be quite as big an operation as Quentin implied, but then it wouldn't have needed to be at that time. I think my father mainly wanted to speak to you and try to come up with a solution to defeat the First together. He was very impressed with the way you handled Quentin to obtain information on Glorificus."
"Your dad was there then? He was one of the guys sent to hassle my friends?" Buffy felt herself starting to lose the respect she'd just built up for Naomi's father.
"He was there, but it was his assistant that would have done the hassling, under Mr. Travers' orders - not my father's."
"Okay," Buffy accepted; it was all water under the bridge now anyway.
"So was there a second, Miss Summers?" Naomi asked when Buffy fell silent again. "Yes, stop with the Miss Summers! I'm called Buffy, okay? Only my bank managers call me Miss Summers and I'm not in the habit of liking them, so please, it's Buffy."
"Okay Buffy," Naomi smiled. "So is there a third, or was the name thing really the original second?"
Buffy blinked. "Huh?"
"Did you have a reason, other than a craving for pie, for asking me out this afternoon?" Naomi clarified.
"I didn't ask you out!" Buffy replied, perturbed . "At least not in that way, I was just hungry and didn't want to eat alone."
"Well, as flattering as that truly isn't, I actually meant did you have something you wanted to ask me in private?" Naomi smiled.
Buffy's chair scraped back across the floor. "I thought the British were supposed to be shy, retiring prudes - I guess that's just Giles after all." Seeing Naomi's smile become uncertain, Buffy leaned forward again. "What did you think I wanted to ask you?"
"I don't know," Naomi said back, "what do you think I thought you were going to ask me?"
Buffy and Naomi held each others gaze for a minute before both dissolved into giggles.
It was another minute before they could speak again and it was Buffy who got the first words in:
"I wasn't making a pass at you when I asked you to come eat with me," she insisted, not wanting that assumption hanging around her neck in the future. "I know it probably looked like it, but I wasn't."
"I never thought it looked like that, Buffy."
"Oh, okay then."
"Of course now I do."
Buffy blushed hard enough to make Naomi start giggling again, which then set Buffy off again.
"Well, let me be perfectly clear, I wasn't. I just really didn't want to be lost in Cleveland alone. I haven't been into the city enough to know my way around yet."
"Don't you patrol out here?"
"Kennedy has just started bringing Alison here, getting her used to the terrain, but up until last week we were mostly concentrating on the Hellmouth, or the others were; I was mostly concentrating on my ex." Buffy gave a self-depreciating laugh as she admitted that.
"Spike?" Naomi looked suddenly Watcher-like again.
"No, not Spike - and how does everyone know about that anyway?"
"Word gets around," Naomi said simply.
Buffy frowned at the explanation that didn't actually explain anything. "Well no, not Spike."
Naomi nodded, giving Buffy her undivided attention, which was a little unnerving for the blonde.
"What does that mean?" She asked of the nod.
"I didn't say anything, Miss Summers." Naomi bit her lip as she realised her mistake. "I'm sorry, it's going to take some getting used to, calling you Buffy. It wasn't allowed at the Academy."
"You didn't have to say anything, your look spoke... hang on, what do you mean it wasn't allowed?" Buffy's brain changed direction, barely waiting for her mouth to catch up. "Who said it wasn't allowed?"
Naomi smiled. "Well I don't know who made up the rule, but as a mark of respect Watchers must only refer to the Slayer in a formal manner. The only exception is the Slayer's personal Watcher and then the decision is left up to the partnership concerned."
Buffy sipped from her mocha as she thought that over. Something sounded hokey to her. Since when did Watchers respect Slayers? Only after they had no choice in Buffy's experience.
She put her mug of chocolate-laced coffee back down. "You don't think it might have more to do with distancing themselves, yourselves, from the person on the front lines?" She asked.
"I don't think I follow."
But Naomi did look like she followed. Buffy had already sussed her out as being pretty darn smart, and despite her pleasant air, Buffy was sure she was hiding something too. Right now, she looked more like she didn't want to follow.
"Okay, let me put it this way: Farmers don't give their cows first names, do they? Or their chickens or sheep or pigs? Of course not, because they know they are going to get killed and eaten and they don't want to become too attached to Bluebell or Henry or Shawn or...or Mr. Gordo..."
Buffy's voice broke a little at the thought of Mr. Gordo. The loss of her stuffed childhood friend was, weirdly, one of the things that still choked her up the most about Sunnydale. She assumed it was linked in her mind with losing her Mom's things and the family photos.
Naomi was uncomfortable with the change in Buffy's demeanor, from righteous Slayer on the offensive to a girl that seemed younger than her own years in the space of a sentence. She had to say something to break the silence.
"I believe Mr. Gordo would be classed as a Surname."
Buffy huffed out a tortured laugh as she came back from her brief sprint down memory lane. "I suppose, but it just seemed to fit. Anyway, I think that's got more to do with it then politeness."
"I certainly don't think of you as a cow, and I'm almost as certain that my father never has either. If there is any truth to your theory, then I imagine it must only relate to a small percentage of Watchers."
"I wouldn't be so sure."
"I'm afraid I am," Naomi insisted.
The women stared at each other until eventually Buffy shrugged.
"Agree to disagree?"
"That would seem to be our only course of action." Naomi nodded amiably.
"Good, so tell me some more about your thesis." Buffy grinned. "In other words, let's talk about me."
"He's a man, he shouldn't be gardening," Xander insisted, not for the first time.
"I don't mind really." Craig was pushing loose earth over the seeds he'd sprinkled earlier.
"What's gender got to do with it?" Kennedy was laying on her back now, with one arm over her eyes to blot out the sun.
"Men don't garden, they can farm, but they don't garden," explained Xander, the bang of his hammer punctuating each word.
"Well this is kind of like farming, Xander - it's not like he's planting daisies, he's planting stuff that will help us to be more self-sufficient," Willow said. She was digging holes in the soil ready to plant some big orangey-brown bulbs that looked kind of like potatoes.
"Though I totally agree with you," she continued, "Craig shouldn't be gardening, he should be in Cleveland with the others."
"I'm not very good with books," Craig admitted, not looking up. "I'm better with my hands."
"And you want to be a Watcher?" Kennedy removed her arm and tilted her head so she could see him.
"What?" Kennedy sat up a little and stared at him in surprise. Willow and Xander were looking as equally puzzled.
Craig looked up sharply as he realized what he'd said. "I mean, course I do, but...but I'd rather, y'know, be out there doing it, than sitting around reading... Oh look, Andrew's finished his shower." He waved towards the blonde bloke coming out the back door with the demon pet Goorzar at his heels.
There were knowing smiles shared between the three friends at Craig's bright exclamation, but he was happy to ignore it as long as it covered the sound of his foot in his mouth. He really had to at least try and think before he spoke in the future.
Faith's stomach was grumbling something fierce, and her money was running out faster than she could travel, and why hadn't she just met up with Giles anyway? What exactly was she trying to prove by going it alone? Was being dirty, and hungry and tired really gonna help her think anything out or build her character? She was starting to doubt it. She was also starting to doubt she could go more than another five minutes without eating something.
She stopped on a corner and dug around in her pockets. What had started out as a small fortune garnered from her time in the prison laundry - okay so it was a very small fortune but compared to nothing it was a lot - was dwindling a lot closer to nothing all the time.
She counted out the change carefully, knowing she still had a few well-looked after notes in her pocket to fall back on, and eyed the hot dog stand up the road. She could really go for one of those right now, with everything twice. Her mouth started to water just at the thought as she walked closer.
Seeing the price in big numbers written above the stall she halted in shock. Four eighty for something she'd have finished and forgotten about in five minutes? No frigging way.
Disappointed, she turned her back on the stand and tried to ignore the delicious aroma wafting around her. Okay, things were expensive on the outside, she already knew that. What had she done before? She'd used her creativity.
She licked her lips slowly as she looked across the street at a mini-mart. Creative was the way to go now, she decided. It seemed a shame to waste her useful skills after all when she didn't have that many.
She waited for the traffic to clear before crossing the road and entering the small shop. An elderly lady held the door for her and Faith smiled sweetly as she said her thanks.
Inside, she scanned the shelves. She had to think small. Small and filling. Stuff that would easily fit into the pockets of her denim jacket, which weren't that large. Her jeans were a little tight to fit anything in them with out being conspicuous, even for a pro like her. She could probably slide a carton of cigarettes right in if she could get to them, but no, she wasn't here for cigarettes, just food. She could live without the smokes, she might go crazy, but she wouldn't die from starvation without them.
She made her way to the back of the shop, keeping a subtle eye on the Hispanic shop keeper who was trying to deal with a teenage customer, while getting mildly irritated with a lady Faith assumed must be his wife. Good, he was distracted. She did a quick check for cameras and couldn't see any, which wasn't a surprise. A shop this tiny probably couldn't afford much in the way of security.
She looked thoughtfully down at the stuff for sale, but her body remained aware of every presence in the room. If anyone came down this aisle, she would casually move to another one. Slayer senses came in real handy sometimes.
She picked up a couple of Twinkies and stood reading the back of one, while the other was pushed up her sleeve. When it was safely out of view she put the one she'd been examining back on the shelf and moved on.
Using the same moves, two candy bars disappeared up her other sleeve, and then as she crouched to check something on a bottom shelf, a bag of chips went into her inside pocket.
Damn, it bulged too much, but hey there was a smaller size. She swapped them and stood back up.
She walked to the fruit stand next and in pretense of checking the apples she knocked half a dozen to the floor. Muttering a quiet "Damn." for anyone who was listening, she bent to pick them up. One slipped into a jacket pocket and she put the rest back. She muttered irritably for real when they all toppled again.
Okay, she'd pushed her luck enough, time to get out of there.
Faith didn't move, just kept staring at a bunch of bananas without seeing them. She wondered if she should buy something anyway, just to make her being in here for so long less suspicious.
She looked over at the counter and no one was paying her any attention.
'Why are you stalling, just go already,' she told herself.
She slowly moved for the exit. It wasn't like she was holding the guy up with a nine millimeter and demanding all the cash from the register. What she'd harvested wouldn't even come to ten dollars, probably, so why did her feet want to break into a guilty run.
She was close to the door when it opened and a woman with two little kids came through. Smiling a greeting she held the door for Faith and the brunette paused, looking from the shop keeper to the woman holding the door again.
With a voice filled with impatient disgust Faith snarled: "Ah screw it!" And turned back to the cash register. Dumping everything she'd hidden away on to the counter, she brusquely asked: "How much?"
The Hispanic guy seemed nervous of her tone and he kept shooting her glances as he rung up the items. "Uh, eleven dollars and fifteen." He told her.
'For Christ's sake,' she thought, slamming the exact amount on the counter. 'I should have just brought the hot dog.'
They had spent well over an hour at the patisserie in the end, but finally they were making their way back through the busy Cleveland streets towards the library.
"So you're saying that there is a prophecy?" Buffy asked, trying to catch the young trainee out.
"I'm saying there are dozens," Naomi corrected lightly.
"About Faith and I?"
"About the last Slayer and her counterpart," Naomi corrected again.
"And that means Faith and I?" She pushed.
Naomi didn't respond. She was surprisingly good at that, much to Buffy's annoyance. Realizing she wasn't getting what she wanted, she changed the subject a little.
"But I'm not the last Slayer. There are hundreds of us around now, so even if the spell changed the whole natural order of Slayerdom I still wouldn't be the last, necessarily. Whichever one of us that lasted the longest would be last."
They stopped on a corner and Naomi pressed the button for the crosswalk. She answered as they waited for the lights to change.
"Some people believe you were supposed to be the final Slayer and that that is good enough for prophecy, others believe that it translates as the last original Slayer."
The traffic stopped and they walked briskly across the road.
Buffy stopped on the opposite corner, turning to Naomi as she asked: "And what do you believe?"
"That there are so many contradicting prophecies, and theories concerning those prophecies, that the best thing to do is to live your life as you wish and pray it all comes out in the wash." Naomi smiled.
Buffy wasn't even really listening; her mind had already gone down another road. "But I wouldn't even be the last original Slayer, Faith would be. She came later."
"Maybe she is," Naomi shrugged infuriatingly.
"You know, for a future Watcher - you sure don't seem to know a whole lot." Buffy looked about her, trying to guess the right direction. "And I can't believe you got extra credit for a thesis that basically said: 'It's all a load of crap anyway so why worry about it!'". Nothing looked familiar so she picked a road at random. "Come on, it's this way."
Naomi didn't follow and Buffy was a little worried that she'd offended the polite trainee. Turning around to apologize for her irritable jibe, she realized Naomi was laughing, not really the response you expected from someone you had just insulted.
"Part of a Watcher's duties is to tell the fact from the fiction, the myth from the legend and the portent from the prophecy. And, incidentally, the East from the West." She pointed a thumb over her shoulder. "It's this way."
Buffy pretended to be dubious, but now that it had been brought to her attention, the flower stall behind Naomi did look familiar. She walked back towards the English girl and they fell into step again.
"You'd better be right," she said for show. "If we take much longer getting back, Giles will go without us."
"I'm right," Naomi said simply, to well-mannered to point out that it was Buffy who had insisted on staying longer for cheesecake.
Buffy turned her head as they walked side by side, regarding the taller girl's profile. Eventually she asked:
"So do any of these prophecies about me and Faith come to pass after the end of Sunnydale?"
It was Naomi's turn to look at her closely. After a few steps she finally revealed something: "Yes, a few." "Oh." Was all Buffy could think to say. That meant at least, that the Chosen two's paths had to cross again at some point in the future, more than once even.
They walked on in silence and up ahead Buffy could see the big library building, they'd reached it a lot quicker than she'd expected and certainly a lot quicker than if they'd taken her chosen route. Outside Giles was waiting with the boys, so that was their ladies room slash stomach flu excuse blown. Oh well...
She looked at Naomi again, clearing her throat nervously before asking:
"So do, uh, any of those prophecies have a happy ending?"
Andrew was standing with his hands on his hips when Giles, Buffy and the trainees finally trooped through the back door.
"Where have you been? Dinner was ready twenty minutes ago."
"And everyone ate already?" Buffy looked around and the table. "Are you skimping on the rations now, Andrew?" She shed her coat before draping it over the back of a kitchen chair.
"No," Xander groaned from further up the table. "He made us all wait! "So what happened? Did Giles make you read every book in the whole library?"
"Don't blame it on me!" Giles answered indignantly. "It was the girls that kept us waiting."
"Well you're here now, so can we eat sometime before I have to go back to school?" Dawn cleared away her homework books she'd used to fill the time.
"Go take off your coats and wash up, dinner will be served in one minute," Andrew announced to the overcrowded kitchen.
The room emptied of Watcher trainees as they headed upstairs to wash their hands. Meal times were the only times you could count on all of them to do as they were told, even if they were told by Andrew.
Giles disappeared to his own bedroom to use his ensuite bath to freshen up and Buffy nudged Andrew out of the way so that she could wash her hands at the kitchen sink.
After drying them, she leaned against the door frame of Willow's magic room. Inside Willow was standing in front of her shelves, running her fingers over the various brightly colored coded jars of ingredients.
"I think we should try a little Tumbleweed next, it's known to have scrying properties."
Looking over her shoulder at her girlfriend, who was perched on the desk with her feet on the chair, she sighed. "And it's about the only thing I haven't tried yet."
"You trying another spell, Will?" Buffy asked.
It was nice of her friend, but Buffy almost wished she wouldn't. The disappointment was getting more unbearable with each try. It was obvious now that Faith was only going to come to Boudenver if and when she felt like it, and she obviously didn't feel like it this week. Why keep forcing the issue with magic?
"Oh hey Buffy." Willow turned all the way around to face her. "Yeah, well, it's only a matter of time before Giles checks his credit card statement and he's going to start asking awkward questions like: 'Why are we still buying eggs from the grocer?' and, uh, that kind of thing."
"You're doing another locator spell for the chickens?"
"Okay." Buffy tried to sound neutral.
She couldn't believe Willow thought that finding the chickens was a priority over finding Faith! Had she used the Tumbleweed to locate the other Slayer, or had she only used second rate ingredients? Was that why Willow hadn't found her yet, because she was using crappy things in her spells while all the good magical supplies were going on the poofed chickens?
"Dinner's ready!" Andrew bellowed loud enough for the whole house to hear him, nearly deafening Buffy who was standing only a few feet away.
She nearly walloped him upside the head, but forced herself to walk away and take her seat instead. Thundering feet could be heard coming down the back stairs and she didn't want to have to sit at the counter.
Buffy fumed quietly to herself, knowing she was being irrational about it all but unable to help it, while everyone took their seats and Andrew served up the Roast Chicken dinner. The annoying cook had taken their guests as an excuse to widen his…cook-ability, so far Buffy hadn't had any reason to complain and as much as she wanted to pick fault tonight, just for the hell of it, the mouth-watering aroma actually picked-up her mood instead.
Tucking in, she made herself believe that the chickens were more important than Faith. The only bad side to eating chicken was a little extra weight, and she knew she could stand to put on a pound or two however loath she was to actually do it. Eating Faith...too many bad sides to mention!
It felt a little wrong to be having lusty thoughts about her estranged lover while at the dinner table, so she concentrated on the conversation instead. Well not the main conversation, because Peter was talking, but a side conversation between Alison and Xander.
"...Called this afternoon," Alison was saying, "but I thought you'd all gone out."
'Who had called?' Buffy wondered.
"Nah, Andrew and I were in the shower block all afternoon and then we took a break with Will in the garden," Xander explained as he ate.
"Sorry I didn't check, I just knew I was in the house alone." Alison apologized.
"Don't worry about it," Xander assured her. "If it's important I'm sure they'll call back."
Buffy leaned forward to see up the table. "Who was it? Who called?"
"I don't know, they didn't leave a name." Alison leaned forward as well so that Buffy could see her clearly.
"Well did you recognize the voice?"
Alison shook her head. "I don't think so, I'm not sure."
"Alison, I need you to be sure - did it sound familiar?"
Alison just shook her head again.
"Buffy, Ally wouldn't recognize her voice anyway," Willow pointed out gently from further down the table. "They've never met."
Oh yeah, she'd forgotten about that. "Good point, okay just tell me what she said, did she leave a message for Giles or...or...or me? Did she sound okay?"
A light went on behind Alison's eyes as she realised just what was going through the elder Slayer's mind.
"No, there was no message for you, just for Xander."
Why would Faith want to speak to Xander? Or, to be more specific, why would Faith call only to speak to Xander? Buffy looked at her friend, sitting across from Alison, but he shrugged, guessing what she was thinking.
"Buffy, I might have never met Faith but I know it wasn't her," Alison said, sure of herself.
"How could you know that?" Buffy felt that little spark of irrational anger come back. Of course it was Faith, who else would be making mysterious phone calls to...Xander? Buffy frowned.
"Because Faith's a chick, and whoever called this afternoon was a dude, I'm pretty sure."
"It may have been Angel or Wesley," Giles offered, after the silence had settled, even the Watcher wannabe's had shut-up to enjoy her discomfort. "They've both been rather good at staying in contact this past week."
The Scoobies all looked to Alison, but she shrugged. "I don't think it was Mr. Wyndham-Price, he didn't sound British. Dunno what Angel sounds like, but the guy on the phone didn't sound like he had fangs."
"'Ow does someone with fangs sound then?" Rajiv asked, grinning at the young Slayer.
"Well they'd lisp, wouldn't they?" Alison asked.
There was some good-natured chuckling from around the table, even Alison found her own answer amusing.
Buffy shook her head, irritably. "Angel doesn't lisp and he wouldn't ask to speak to Xander either. Besides I spoke to Wes this afternoon, if there was something new, he'd have told me then."
Giles turned to Alison again. "Could you perhaps give us the message the caller left for Xander?"
The young Slayer nodded as she tried to remember it word for word. "He said he figured he owed you a call or a few thousand of them and that he'd call back."
The Scoobies looked at each other, no more enlightened than before.
The small brick building that was Osceola's station was not the busy place Faith could have done with. Sure there were people around, but the clock on the wall said it was well into evening rush hour and this wasn't what she would call a rush.
Spotting what she wanted, Faith made her way across the floor to the big time-tables nailed to the wall and tried to make head or tail of it. It wasn't easy. Back in Boston, she'd never bothered with the little lines on the charts, she'd always known instinctively which train to jump on to. After leaving Boston behind, time-tables had never been important. It hadn't mattered where she was going, it just mattered that whatever mode of transport she'd chosen was leaving right that minute.
Giving up and going back outside, Faith wandered down the road from the red brick building.
A block away, Faith cut a left and disappeared between two houses. It took her five minutes to find the tracks behind the properties and she squinted up at the clouds scudding across the sun.
She knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west, and it was after five so the sun was going down not up, so that meant that whichever direction the sun was heading in, was west - back towards California.
After five minutes of squinting, Faith kicked her toe into the dirt at the edge of the tracks.
"Who am I kidding? I ain't fricking Mick Dundee." She chuckled at her temporary insanity and picked her direction a different way. "Eenie meanie miney... ah screw it!"
Faith started walking along side the tracks. She only had half an idea where she was right now, so what the hell did it matter which direction she picked anyway? She pulled the potato chips out of her pocket and opened them up as she trudged along. Her feet idly kicking at broken up cinder blocks as she crunched through the packet.
If she knew how to tell the time better by the sun than she knew how to tell the direction, then Faith would have known it was just under an hour since she'd started walking that she heard a familiar whistling sound.
Minutes later the long freighter train could be seen in the distance behind, drawing closer with every step she took away from it.
Faith bit into her juicy apple again just as the train drew alongside her, feeling to her as if it was rocketing past even though it wasn't moving all that fast at all. Faith's hair blew about in the stream of wind the train created, but she didn't step aside, or even give it a look.
The train rumbled on, the clackety-clack of it metal wheels on the metal tracks loud in the stillness of the Iowa countryside.
A few minutes later an apple core came flying out of an open box car, bounced once and rolled to a stop in front of a surprised cow.
Craig sat in the boy's dorm alone. Everyone was back now and dinner was in the process of being eaten and he could hear it happening even from all the way out here. He'd been lingering near the kitchen for a while, but the delicious smell was driving him closer to the door, so he'd backed off completely.
His stomach grumbled as he tried to come up with ways to break into Willow's magic supplies within the next couple of days. Naomi would be out after dinner with any luck. She'd bring him a big bowl of whatever Andrew had cooked that evening. Craig couldn't wait, in the last few days he'd come to adore Andrew's cooking even more than his mum's.
Something small and hard hit his back. He flinched and twisted around to see what it was. A small green Hazelnut lay on the bed behind him. Picking it up curiously, he flinched again when another struck him on the shoulder. "Ow!"
Looking around wildly, he could see no one in the not very large barn with him. Another zinged off his other shoulder and he stood up. "What the..?" Another hit his forehead and really hurt. His fingers checked for blood as he back-stepped towards the door. A nut hit his ankle at the same time as one from behind caught him on the elbow.
He'd had enough. Turning to flee the dorm he thought he saw a flash of purple disappear in front of him, but he didn't really care.
He bumped into Naomi on the other side of the door and she had to side-step to stop from spilling a bowl of food down them both.
"What is it, Craig?" she demanded.
He shook his head at her, completely bewildered.
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